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Futility of child labour rescue operations

Friday, August 01, 2014
By Shwetha Kannan

A report released by the NGO CRY reveals that rescued child labourers do little better after being rescued as compared to when they were labouring, mainly because of the slipshod work of rescuers

According to recent estimates, there are 218 million children involved in child labour across the globe. Statistics from the Government of India, as reported by the media, put the figure at more than 20 million child labourers in the country. But if one goes by what NGOs working in the field have to say, the number is as high as 60 million and can go up to 100 million if out-of-school children are included as part of the labour force.

Chotu, who is seen washing used glasses at the 'chaiwala's tapri'; Chutki, who pleads with you for buy her flowers at the signals; Munna, who serves you soup at the Chinese food stall, are all part of these millions in our country. Are these children meant to be doing what they are doing? No. Are there ways and means to get them out of the hell that they are living in and give them a chance to lead better lives? Yes. Are we doing what it takes to help and protect them?

Are we doing enough? The answer to these questions, unfortunately, is “no”. These children are supposed to be going to school, playing with friends, living their childhood just the way we lived ours. But caught in the clutches of child labour, their dreams to live a good life remains just that, a dream.

One might say that these children can be rescued and be given an opportunity to lead better lives. But does this really happen? Are these 'rescued' children actually rescued and rehabilitated in the true sense?

A report exploring the the aftermath of the raids that began in Mumbai in 2008, where more than 2,000 children were rescued from labour, was released by Child Rights and You (CRY) along with the Committe Action for Relief and Education (CARE) on Thursday.

This report, where the lives of these children are chronicled through interviews, surveys and drawings by the children, states that for the rescue has not made much difference to the lives of many of these children. It also says that much more needs to be done by the government, much more than what it claims to be doing, to tackle the issue of child labour in the country.

For this study four police zones of Dharavi, Byculla, Chembur and Antop Hill were selected as these were areas where the maximum raids had been conducted. In addition to the information collected from the 85 children (78 boys and seven girls coming mostly from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan and in the age group of 11 to 13 years), information for analysis was also sought from 77 First Information Reports (FIRs) from 38 police stations.

“Between 2008 and 2010, 2,225 children were rescued, out of which we found out that 450 are living in Mumbai. So we decided to take a sample size of 20 per cent of these children which amounted to 85 children,” said Dr Yamini Suvarna, one of the authors of the report from CARE.

The report that took almost a year to complete has come out with major findings about the life of these children before they were rescued, during the rescue and after the recsue was done.

Before being rescued, none of them were given three meals a day, 60 (70.59 per cent) were given just two meals a day, 27 (31.76 per cent) did not get tea.
On a positive note, 78 children (91.76 per cent) had access to drinking water. Seven children, two were into begging, four worked as street vendors and one who in a hotel, said that they did not get water to drink when at work. 70 children (82.35 per cent) earned between Rs 501 and Rs 2,000 per month, 71 children (83.53 per cent) worked 10 hours a day or more and 56 children (65.88 per cent) worked six days a week. None of them had access to education.

Only eight children (9.411 per cent) had had health checkups and 42 (49.41 per cent) once received clothes from their employers.

Another saddening revelation was that 42 children had been treated badly by the employer out of which one girl and 24 boys reported being subjected to verbal abuse. One girl and 17 boys reported physical abuse and one boy and one girl reported sexual abuse.

Did the rescue actually set them free?
The findings give you the answer.

From October to December 2013 when the study was being conducted, 50 children aged between 11 to 13 years continued working as child labourers in the top three sectors of work: hotels, leather factories and zari workshops. Thirty-five children were from Uttar Pradesh, 31 from Bihar. Sixty-five children worked full-time, 16 children combined work with education, 16 attended municipal schools (10 in Hindi medium, two in Marathi medium and four in Urdu medium), four children were no longer employed, out of which three neither worked nor attended school, while only one was at home and studying. Fifty-three children, out of the 68 not studying, wanted to study. Shockingly, 10 children who suffered abuse at the hands of either the employer or adult co-workers continue to work with the same person, this includes one of the two children who faced sexual abuse at work. And the areas of work are hotels and other eateries, leather factories, gold factories, pani-puriwallas, metal work and street vending.

So what do these findings tell us?
“It is of great concern that even while children are being rescued from labour they feel neglected, unprotected and their rights are not ensured. This calls for attention from the government at all levels. There is an immediate need for streamlining the protection of children during the rescue process. We need to have a robust mechanism where each child is assured rehabilitaion in the real sense of the word,” said Kumar Nilendu, general manager (West), development support, CRY.

According to Vikas Sawant, co-author of the report from CARE, one has to make sure that the existing rules and standard operating procedures (SOPs) with regards to rescue and rehabilitation are adhered to.

“What is the point in demanding new laws when there is no implementation of the existing laws in the first place? In our study we observed that the SOPs that have been prescribed by the government for rescue operations are not being adhered to.

After the rescue the children were not provided with food and water. In addition, they were taken to the police station in a police vehicle, FIRs of several children were clubbed into one FIR, they were kept waiting for hours in the same room as their employers or other accused. These are few of the violations of the SOPs, that we came across. Steps to stop all this from happening must be taken,” said Sawant.

The report has some suggestions and recommendations to deal with the issue in hand that touch upon subjects like process of rescue, strengthening prosecution, streamlining restoration process, adherence of SOPs, to state a few.

“We have started with Mumbai as a step towards getting to know the reality of the lives of children rescued from labour. We plan to scale it up to the state level and later to a national level. We will be submitting the findings of this report to the government and all the concerned authorities to bring about changes in policy. We will try our best to bring in a change at all possible levels,” said Kreeanne Rabadi, regional director (West), CRY.

Other findings from the report:

  •     77 FIRs filed covering 366 commercial units
  •     Number of FIRs come up in court: 58 covering 209 units
  •     Number of FIRs not heard as yet: 19 covering 157 units
  •     Judgments have been made in only three cases
  •     FIRs with information on abuse faced by children: None
  •     Employers not employing children any more: 315 of 366
  •     307 units continue to function post FIRs.
  •     35 units have shut down post FIRs.
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