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Child labour's vicious circle spills more blood in Delhi

April 21, 2011 20:21 IST

Ten-year-old Moin Khan paid with his life for a deal struck between his grandfather and his uncle.

Giving an advance of Rs 500, Moin's uncle had brought him to the national capital with the promise of giving him a 'vocational training' and a monthly salary.

What Moin had to endeavour for the next two years was 16- hour-shifts and constant physical punishments. In the end, his body could take it no longer and he breathed his last when his uncle tied his hands and feet and hurled him headfirst on the floor on Saturday, 'for being slow.'

Moin's tragic story is only one of the many stories of little boys and girls trafficked into Delhi for cheap labour.

According to child rights activists, there are at least 5 lakh children forced into labour in the national capital. Majority of these children are between the ages of seven and 12 and have been forced to work under extreme conditions with minimum civic amenities.

Almost all of these boys work from 7 am to well after midnight, with just two breaks -- lunch and dinner. Most of the rescued boys have complained of physical abuse from their supervisors.

What is worse, 30 per cent of the rescued children have related experiences of sexual abuse at the hands of their employers.

"99 per cent of these children have been trafficked from Bihar. We have identified some districts from Bihar, where trafficking is at its peak -- Sitamarhi, Madhubani, Muzaffarpur and Kishanganj. The guardians of these boys are offered an advance of Rs 500 with an assurance that they are being taken for vocational training," says Rakesh Senger, the national secretary of NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan.

"The guardians are told that their kid would not be able to send money for the first three years because they would be undergoing training, but are assured that after the training, they would send home good money. With the greed of their children settling in a so-called hi-fi city like Delhi, away from the poverty at home, the guardians agree," Senger adds. 

Most of these children are employed in makeshift factories operating from single-room rented apartments. They are paid anywhere between Rs 20 and Rs 50 per week under extreme work conditions. They are forced to work, eat and sleep in the same room with no weekly offs.

One of the rescued children met, eight-year-old Kalu (name changed to protect identity) says that the punishments meted out in these environments are severe.

"I belong to Bihar; I don't even remember which district. Both my parents are dead and I used to live with my extended family. About a year ago, my uncle brought me to Delhi by telling my grandfather that he would take care of me and provide me quality education here. I was brought here and forced to work in this house, where I had to work on embroidery of bangles from 7 in the morning to 12 in the night. We were not given proper food or even breaks. And if we broke one bangle, we would be beaten up. Some of the supervisors would just hurl us across the room," Kalu says.

Another child tells, that his employer would put a hot rod of iron into his pant just for being slow.

"Sometimes all I wished for was a hot meal cooked by my mother. I have not met my parents in two years," the nine-year-old, who hails from Darbhanga in Bihar, says. The little boy used to work in a shoe and polish factory in northwest Delhi.

"The children we rescue are physically weak and look starved. Many have signs of physical abuse like scars. They also look emotionally traumatised. Surprisingly, not many of these children are aware that they have been working under such strenuous conditions. To keep their attention restricted to the four walls of their work place, their employers play popular Bollywood and Bhojpuri songs. In this way, the children do not interact with the outside world," Senger says.

Child right activists say that there are many laws in the country to prevent child labour, but there is a clear lack of execution. Even Moin Khan could have been saved had the police and district task force had acted on a complaint given by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan.

"We had given a complaint in January last year that children were being forced into labour in Bharat Nagar (where Moin Khan was working), but when we and the district task force raided the area, we could only rescue nine children. If police had been a little more vigilant, then more boys could have been rescued. In any case, the employers of these children do not keep them in the same place for more than six months for the fear of raids. And in most cases, the police swings into action only after six or eight months," Senger says.   

Senger says that the problem with most of these raids is that bailable sections of the law are invoked.

"In the Juvenile Justice Act, there are certain sections which are non-bailable. When raids are conducted and the employers arrested, police register cases under the bailable sections of the law against them. So once they come out on bail, they restart their factory at some other place with some other trafficked children. It is a vicious cycle," Senger adds.

Sahim Salim in New Delhi