Monday, October 29, 2007

Unending saga of child labourers

There are reportedly 12 million child labourers in India who sweat it out everyday in shops and factories for meagre pay or sometimes worse as bonded labourers, with no pay at all.

Many of Delhi's lost children work in Shahpurjaat, where on Monday a raid was conducted by the Delhi police and an NGO.

Fourteen children were rescued from the building, which shot into the headlines after a British newspaper reported on child labour, making clothes for international retailer, the Gap.

But there are hundreds of children left behind in the area. They work for more than 12 hours a day, and if they are lucky, they earn Rs 5000 a month.

''His father died so he came here to earn,'' said an older cousin of a child labourer. ''He's still learning. We work 12-13 hours everyday,'' he added.

The latest controversy surrounding the Gap has resulted in a burst of activism, but if the police make the time or the effort, it's easy to find hundreds of workshops that employ children in conditions that are often inhuman.

It's common knowledge that in places like Okhla, Khanpur and Shahpurjaat there are several small factories and shops where children under 14 work endless hours.

A ten-year-old boy was among the many who work everyday at a workshop in Khandour near Saket, earning not more than Rs 200.

Activists say rescuing the children isn't enough. The government has to provide a financial solution for poor families.

''No one looks at prevention. Now even if you send these kids home, they come back and start working again because the original problem has not been solved. Parents have not been given any support,'' said Bharti Ali, Activist.

In 1996, the Supreme Court issued guidelines for how to deal with child labour. The suggestions included providing employment to an older member of a family whose child earns a living.

However, all the government has right now to tackle child labour, is an official penalty of a maximum of two years in prison, and the conviction rate is negligible.

Till then, Delhi's lost children continue to work, unseen and unheard.