|Child labourers in a Jaipur factory|
Jaipur, Nov. 13: Rajasthan has been the toast of industry after the state pioneered a law that makes it easier to close down factories and harder for trade unions to secure recognition.
Amid the jubilation over the labour reforms that received presidential assent last week, a wart has been swept under the carpet: Rajasthan figures among the worst three states in India where child labour is rampant.
Industry that has been generally applauding the labour reforms concedes that it has not done much to tackle sweatshops that feed on children.
Nitin Gupta, the Rajasthan director of industry chamber CII, said: “We are against child labour and the CII has definite guidelines about not employing child labour. But we have not pushed anything specific yet for curbing the same.”
Echoing Gupta, Atul Sharma, the head of Ficci in Rajasthan, said: “We are against such illegal activities but there is no initiative as of now towards ending child labour in the state.”
Jaipur has virtually become a magnet for child toilers — as is evident from the story of 13-year-old Mohammad Sebi, who will spend Children’s Day back home in Bihar after a harrowing month in a bangle factory here.
At the factory, he was made to slog 14 hours a day, beaten up if he made a mistake and paid only Rs 30 a week.
Hailing from a poor family of six brothers and two sisters in Badi Dargah village, Sebi’s father did not have the money to get him a mobile. When a neighbour, Maksur, promised him one along with a job, he ran away from home in early September.
A few days later, he found himself in a cramped bangle factory in a dingy bylane in Jaipur’s Amer area, where he had to work for hours without end along with seven other boys. He was given three meals a day but the promised mobile did not come.
Providentially for Sebi, Rajasthan’s child welfare committee tracked him down to his workplace on October 16, exactly a month after his family lodged a missing complaint. On November 3, he was sent home.
“On Sundays, we were taken out but not all at once. Two of us would be taken out in turns on scooters and handed Rs 30. But the older boys often snatched the money from us to buy cigarettes. I used to be beaten with a rod if something went wrong with my work,” the boy has told police, according to documents available with the child welfare committee.
Sebi is just one of the thousands of child labourers trapped in hundreds of such “factories” in Rajasthan —gem-polishing and bangle-making units, embroidery shops, even small dhabas and tea stalls, where they work between 14 and 18 hours a day.
According to the Children of India, 2012, survey done by the Government of India along with the Unicef, Rajasthan has the highest number of child labourers after Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. The 2001 census says nearly 10 per cent of the total 1,26,66,377 child labourers in India between the ages of five and 14 are in Rajasthan.
“The data is disturbing. The total figure from the state would be more than 13 lakh according to the 2011 census,” Vijay Goyal, the general secretary of Resource for Human Rights and a member of Rajasthan’s child welfare committee, said.
Rescue missions are mounted but the result is a drop in an ocean. Around 1,022 children have been rescued from various parts of Rajasthan between January 2013 and October 2014. Over 3,279 were freed in the last three years, according to state government records.
“In Rajasthan, child labour is dealt with under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. But the laws against child traffickers are weak and they get bail easily. Without stringent punishment, the middlemen cannot be deterred,” said Radhakant Saxena, a former DGP who is now a child rights activist.
Some of the traffickers claim they are helping the poor children by getting them jobs, Goyal said. The actual factory-owners never come out in the open and they bank on the middlemen to get the “dirty job” done, he added.
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