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“I Work For 14 Hours A Day”: Child Labourers Away From Family, Suffering

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By Hemali Sangani:

Most of us have seen “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. How did you feel when you saw Harry living in a “Dark Cupboard under the Stairs”, when you watched Dursleys asking a ten year old Harry to serve them their breakfast, while they were busy wishing happy birthday to their son Dudley and presenting him with 36 birthday gifts? I believe most of us felt badly for young Harry and the way he was bullied by Dursleys.

But this was a film. Back in India (our motherland), in fact in our own neighbourhood, we have a real picture. The truth about child labour is not unknown but was very well presented on the News X in their special show – Children of a Lesser God. (To all the American movie fans, unlike the similarly titled American Romantic Drama, the show on NewsX was not at all romantic.)

The first part of the show interviewed rescued child labourers from different industries — Zari, Domestic Labour, and Leather Factories.

Some of the interview excerpts:

A 12 year old domestic help said: “I used to wake up at 10:00 am in the morning. Then did household work. I prepared breakfast and served it. Then I did grocery shopping. After that I cooked. I slept at around 1 or 2 in the night”. The child worked for about 14 hours a day. What was his compensation — Mere Rs.250 a week.

A rescued child labourer from Zari Workshop said, “I have been working since two and half years. One of the agents gave my father a loan of Rs.8,000 for my father’s operation and later took me to New Delhi in lieu of loan. The agent said that if I came to Delhi, our lives would improve. We used to work from 7am to 12 pm. He used to keep beating us even as we worked. If we did not return in 5 minutes from bathroom, he used to beat us”. Salaries paid to bonded labourers in Zari Workshop ranged from NIL to Rs. 300 per month.

A rescued child labourer from Leather factory said, “Sometimes while working, I would get a headache. If I wanted to sleep and refused to work, my supervisor would beat me. He told me to keep working as I could sleep later”

India has a record not only for having the highest number of child labourers in the world, but also for the worst working conditions for child labourers as compared to any countries in the world. The shocking truth is that most of these child labourers are lured by money and better lives by the freely roaming agents (so-called dalaals). No sooner are they exposed to inhuman conditions that they wish of reuniting with their families.

As a young adult, I cannot do without with my parents and often lean on their shoulders, who comfort me by saying do not worry, we are there with you. Compare these with thousands of child labourers in India who are away from their homes and working hard for the so-called “better lives” — they have no shoulder to cry on, no mother to wipe their tears, and no father to guide them; just the support of the other child labourers.

Isn’t the government ashamed? Seems not! In the second part of the show, Mr.Kapil Sibal, HRD Minister said that the education of a child involves various stakeholders such as parents, teachers, friends, the panchayat, NGO’s, civilized society, state government and central government. One stakeholder says they don’t have money, the other says it’s the state government responsibility, state government says to tell the central government, the central government says the state government should be asked — then how would it work? Isn’t Mr.Sibal a core part of the government and in fact, heading the HRD portfolio? If he understands that different stakeholders are neglecting their responsibilities and often making others as scapegoat, isn’t it the right time that he fixes each stakeholders responsibility? According to me, least he can do is clearly defining the responsibilities between the state and the centre. Wouldn’t it be difficult for state as well as centre to escape from their responsibilities, once they are clearly defined? “Where there’s a Will, there’s a Way” – but clearly there’s an absence of political will on part of the government.

You must be to comment.
  1. Neeta

    That’s a nice article Hemali.
    I feel the Government should do something to end child labour in our country because children at young age suffer a lot.

  2. Deepali Patel

    I agree with Hemali. Childern’s are the Future of our country. Even this children’s have right to have better life like most of us. This is a serious problem in India. The intiative by Sambhav Community is commendable.

  3. Neeta

    Nice article Hemali.
    I feel the Government should do something to stop child labour in our country because at a very young age these children have to suffer a lot.

  4. Khushboo

    I totally agree.. I think its high time we take action as individuals to stop Child Labour in the country

  5. Heta

    very good article Hemali.

  6. Ridhi

    good article hemali,..acually it need to be stop…i hope our small initiaive go ahead with big measures….

  7. Cpadhi2010

    hi ,
    the electricity supply of company management of their employers in both day and nights in work . In day used to revenue collection of the Ech. bills and also in night for break down attendant and to look steady line of power supply upto junoir engineer post. This is the govt. rule and follow of the HR act. Pls. answer me in mail cpadhi2010@gmail:disqus .com

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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