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

Posted on August 1, 2011 in Society

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.