Pressure is mounting on the Indian Parliament to end child labour after 150,000 Indians signed an abolition petition demanding an immediate change in the child labour laws. The petition follows the recent revelation of slave labour conditions under which young children of eight and nine were making Christmas decorations. Currently dangerous work is outlawed in India — but there is no blanket ban yet on child labour under the age of fourteen. As a result India accounts for some of the worst excesses in global child labour; overall fifteen million children worldwide work full time when they should be at school.
This week the children who escaped slave conditions have spoken of their fate and about their ambitions for the future. During their horrific ordeal they were trafficked, exploited, imprisoned and denied food and their stories underline the urgent action needed to end child labour. They would still be making tree decorations and other trinkets but for the courageous rescue carried out by Kailash Satyarthi and his co-leaders of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) and Global March Against Child Labour (GMACL).
Their captors were slave masters who had them trafficked from Indian provinces. Often their parents were tricked into believing they were leaving to be given free education.
Their stories, recounted in a new film published on our website EducationEnvoy.org, reveal a pattern of child abuse. The first child featured on the film is eleven year old Rahim from Malman Nagariain. From the moment he boarded a train to India’s capital he became a prisoner and was eventually confined to a dark and dingy sweatshop in LNJP colony. He was forced to work 18 hours a day with only two recesses of ten minutes each for eating. He was never allowed to leave the premises and had to cook food for himself and his employer inside the sweatshop. He was often scolded and hit for being slow at work. His employer did not pay him a single rupee for his work despite being promised INR1500 per month. Now free he wants to study hard and become a soldier.
Imran is eleven and hails from the Katihar district in Bihar. He was indentured to an employer who promised he could send home money to support his family. In the asphyxiating sweatshop, which also doubled up as his living quarters, Imran had to work 14 hours a day. While he produced quality Christmas ornaments and gifts for export, he was never paid anything.
Imran will find it difficult to recover from his ordeal as his health suffered having to spend endless hours inhaling chemicals and adhesives. Though he is now free from the shackles of slavery and wants to go to school, the injuries he endured may be lasting, standing in the way of his ambition to be a teacher. He feels strongly that no child should experience what he went through.
Aslam, twelve, is a native of Sipur village, Azam Nagar in the Katihar district. Despite being promised a good education he too ended up in the same dingy sweatshop in Delhi. Like the other rescued children he worked very long days, sleeping in the same room where he worked. He was never paid a single rupee. Interestingly he too now wants to be a teacher.
Abdul came from the same village as Aslam. His parents sold him after they were promised their son would receive training to help him get a job. Instead he worked from 10am until midnight every day for months. He is now at BBA’s transit Mukti Ashram rehabilitation centre whilst the legal formalities of his repatriation are completed so he can go home. Like Rahim, he wants to be soldier when he grows up.
These boys tell similar stories — from when they were trafficked through to being eventually rescued — but they are only four of around fifteen million children not at school because they are forced to work.
Only a bold change in the law and the policing of it will change the plight of these child slaves. So when the Indian parliament reconvenes in February, the Global March Against Child Labour is seeking a change in the law which bans forever child labour under fourteen and restricts the minimum age to eighteen. The bill has been drafted. Politicians of all parties support it. It just needs the time required to be heard in Parliament so it can be voted through and passed into law.
Join us at EducationEnvoy.org in demanding the Indian people finally abolish child labour. Children should be putting up decorations not making them; the only work they should be doing is school work.
Let’s make 2013 the year child labour is consigned to history.
Names have been changed in this article for the protection of those concerned.
Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; UN Special Envoy for Global Education