No rehabilitation for 95 percent of rescued child labourers

By Azera Rahman, IANS,

New Delhi : Around 95 percent of child labourers rescued from various factory units in Delhi over a year are yet to be rehabilitated, making them more liable to going back into the vicious loop, point out activists who say over 500,000 children work in various industries in the Indian capital.

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According to the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), a child rights organisation, in an affidavit issued by Delhi Police, it is mentioned that between September 2009 and September 2010 police acted strictly against anyone who supported and employed child labour and bonded labour.

“As part of that operation, police raided all 11 districts of Delhi and rescued 1,920 bonded labourers of which 1,111 were child labourers,” Rakesh Senger of BBA told IANS.

BBA accompanied police, the labour department and the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) in the raid and rescue operations.

A total of 145 cases were filed. Of these 87 were against those who employed child labour. A total of 298 accused were arrested while 150 are still at large.

However, a big loophole that emerged hereafter was that of rehabilitation of the rescued child labourers. Most children rescued hailed from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Around 95 percent of the children are yet to be rehabilitated, BBA activists say.

According to child rights activists, in most cases the families of these children languish in abject poverty. Taking advantage of their situation, middlemen approach the families and offer to take their children to the city and put them in schools in exchange of a few hours of menial work. To lure them further, they also offer them some money.

However, once in the city, the children are forced into difficult labour, mostly in ‘zari’ (embroidery) and shoe making industry. The units work out of tiny, dingy rooms where 15-20 children are stuffed in and made to labour for 12-14 hours every day. If they complain, they are thrashed by the employer.

Senger said: “The children work in inhuman and unhygienic condition. Around 15-20 of them live in a room where two adults can stay. When they are rescued they are in a shabby condition, physically very weak, not paid for months and suffering from various medical problems like skin diseases.”

In view of giving the children and their families financial security, the rescued child labourers – who are also treated as bonded labourers – are to be given a rehabilitation package of Rs.25,000. The employer’s share as penalty is Rs.20,000 and the government’s share is Rs.5,000.

“However, only 56 of the 1,111 rescued child labourers – or just five percent of the child labourers – have received the rehabilitation package till date. Which means of the total package of Rs.27,775,000 (Rs.2.7 crore) only Rs.1,400,000 (Rs.14 lakh) has been disbursed,” Senger told IANS.

Apart from this, another amount of Rs.20,000 ought to be given for rehabilitation of anyone who comes under the Bonded Labour Act. According to Senger, not one of the 1,920 rescued have received this package.

“Thus, Rs.38,400,000 (Rs.3.8 crore) which should have been disbursed is still with the government. This shows the sheer lethargy of the government,” Senger said.

According to child rights activists, there are more than 500,000 children still trapped in the clutches of labour in various industries in Delhi. Of these, more than 100,000 are employed as domestic helps.

“The recovery process from employers who are issued fines is very slow by the labour department and police. Just rescuing the children is not enough, they have to be rehabilitated too. If not, they are left in the lurch and face the potential to be trafficked and forced into labour again,” he added.

“Also, while police apprehend the employers of child labour, there is no significant effort made to investigate about the traffickers who are the main culprit,” Senger said.

Out of the nine revenue districts of Delhi, south and northwest districts – which have a high concentration of zari, leather and shoemaking units – have a substantial number of child labourers working, he said.