Stealing childhood: Factories illegally make kids work for peanuts

A child labour raid-rescue operation helps save 12 minor boys employed illegally in Shastri Nagar area of east Delhi, writes PARI SAIKIA

Photo credit: Bachpan Bachao Andolan

It was almost noon for the team that was waiting at the District Magistrate’s office in Shastri Nagar, east Delhi, for permission to carry out a rescue-raid operation. This wasn’t a usual event. Nobody in the team had any clue as to where they were heading except for the fact that they all have gathered for a common mission-rescue the children illegally labouring in factories, shops, and other places.

Soon, the child labour raid-rescue operation began. Split into four groups, they dispersed in the congested, narrow lanes of the Shastri Nagar locality, mostly in residential addresses with karkhanas (factories) running in secret in the backyard with the unmanned workforce, mostly minors from Bihar. These karkhanas mostly deal with embroidery, zari and jewellery work and are found to involve boys as young as eight years old.

The factories and shops caught a whiff of the mission and the children were asked to run hither-thither to escape the eyeballs of the rescue team. The team managed to rescue only 12 boys. “Sigh! Yahan jab bhi raid karo factory walo ko pehle hi pata chal jata hai (the factory owners get a whiff of our plan whenever we raid here),” Arshad, who was leading the operation, told Tehelka.

The team had to face the ire of an agitated crowd led by a group of factory owners. The angry crowd not only stopped the rescue team from proceeding but also threatened them and the District Magistrate, who was part of the operation with dire consequences. It was a lucky escapade from witnessing any untoward incident.

On June 26, almost 12 personnel accompanying the team of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation took out a child labour raid-rescue operation in Shastri Nagar, east Delhi. It was the second day of the operation. Joining the team of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation was RED FM India, which partnered with them for #Bajaoforacause, the District Magistrate, K Mahesh, and Tehelka.

Boys’ narratives

The 11-year-old Aakash (name changed) hesitantly showed the deep cut mark on his right hand, an injury he endured while working at a juice shop in east Delhi. Initially, the boy refused to answer on being asked the details about his cut mark. But when he was assured that nothing of that sort will happen in future, he revealed that he left his job at the shop as the owner would often hit him for petty mistakes, sometimes barehanded, and other times with any object he could get hold of.

“Pehle wala malik bohut bura insaan tha. Roz marta tha, har baat par…jo bhi haat mein aata tha uthake mardeta tha. Tabhi waha kaam chod diya  (My former master was a cruel person. He would hit me over every small thing and with any object that came handy. That’s why I left the work there),” said Aakash.

Another victim Vijay (name changed), who hails from Darbhanga district in Bihar, landed in east Delhi three months back to work at a local Chinese fast food shop as a cook. The 15-year-old would labour for 10 hours (12pm-10pm) with no break or week off and did not receive a single penny from his owner (at the time of meeting him).

The 13-year-old Sonu (name changed), a class VIII dropout from Purnia district in Bihar said that he would share the room with 9-10 other mates in a tiny, cramped space, all working as helpers or wage labourers in a garment shop in east Delhi.   

Aakash, Vijay and Sonu were three of the 12 boys rescued on June 12 in child labour rescue-raid operation led by Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation and RED FM India. Tehelka, which was part of the mission, had a chance to interact with the boys.

The inquiry revealed that 11 boys were from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh had been brought to Delhi in last two-three months.

Districts like Darbhanga and Purnia in Bihar and Dahria and Badaun in Uttar Pradesh have most of their boys engaged in child labour in India’s capital. One of the boys was found to have arrived on the very day of the rescue operation. The team also discovered that almost every day one to two boys from remote parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh land in the mini trade areas of Shastri Nagar.

Even though various studies show that there has been a dramatic fall in the child labour in the last two decades, eliminating child labour is still an unabating and an arduous task in India. Despite so many policies in place, around 80 per cent children are still bereft of their rights – education, health, and basic socio-economic conditions and risk losing their future and talent to illegal activities.  

Child Labour Act

In July 2016, the Parliament had passed the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2016. This Act prohibits employment of children in 83 hazardous occupations and processes. The Act defined “adolescent” as the children between 14 to 18 years of age and bars their employment in any hazardous occupations.

The Act clearly states that employing children below 14 years will attract a jail term between 6 months to two years or a penalty between twenty-thousand to fifty thousand rupees or both. Repeat offenders attract imprisonment between 1 year to 3 years (6 months to 2 years). 

On the occasion of World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, 2018, both Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation and RED FM India, came together to carry forward the noble mission of child protection. 

Noble Laureate Kailash Satyarthi who was quoted as saying to RED FM: “Radio was a tool for my activism when I started my fight against child labour. Radio as a broadcast medium has a far-reaching impact and the ability to reach out to the most remote areas. I am happy that the message of Safe Childhood could reach the masses.”

RJ Raunac from RED FM India said, “I was recently part of a live rescue raid and believe me the children who were rescued from there are in dire need of the basic necessities of life. They were hungry and deprived of basic clothes. I am very sure that Kailash Satyarthi foundation will give a meaning to their life and will look after their education.  

At the moment the boys are being taken care of at Mukti Ashram, the rehabilitation centre of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) by Kailash Satyarthi foundation.