Not just poverty, corporate callousness drives children to labour

Not just poverty, corporate callousness drives children to labour

Sunil is one of the 25 child labourers who were recently rescued by the police and the labour department from a unit in the Narela Industrial Area in west Delhi after a tip-off by an NGO. Aged between eight and 14, all of them hail from the Darbhanga and Samastipur districts of Bihar.

The children are now staying at a children's home, Mukti Ashram, run by NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA).

Not yet out of the shock of seeing men in uniform raid the unit and arrest their employer, the kids are now not sure whom to trust. Some thought they too would be arrested for some unknown crime.

"I did not want to come but the uncle (middleman) who brought me here promised my parents that he will pay me Rs.500 for a month's work," Sunil said as he hesitatingly started his story to IANS.

"We had to stitch bags from 9 a.m. to 12 midnight. On any given day, I stitched 50-100 bags. But even after working for a month, I got no money," he said.

Kohinoor Foods Limited, the company whose Basmati rice bags the kids stitched, maintains that the company has a 'no child labour' policy. A company official told IANS: "According to our Corporate Social Responsibility practices, we don't employ minor labour and observe fair trade practices."

"However, some of the work is sourced out to contractors," the official added, hinting that the contractor may have employed children.

Rakesh Senger of BBA said: "The contractor must have employed the children, but whatever be the case, this shows that children are exploited in the supply chain.  Companies should be more vigilant."

While most children did not receive their wages, the only money they got was a paltry Rs.20 at the end of the week, which they spent on tea and some snacks.

Most of the boys come from extremely poor Muslim families. With their parents usually working as agriculture labourers or daily wage earners, it was literally a hand-to-mouth situation for them.

Mohammad Nasim, a 13-year-old who was one of the 25 rescued child labourers, recounts how he landed in Delhi from Bihar.

"I studied till Class 5 and then dropped out. My mother, who was a daily wage worker, had to leave work because she suffered from jaundice. Her treatment cost a lot of money and she couldn't even cook," Nasim told IANS.

Abject poverty made Nasim's mother an easy prey to the lures of an acquaintance who said  he could take her son to Delhi where he could earn up to Rs.1,000 a month.

"My mother didn't tell me much, just asked me to go with the uncle and work hard. At that time, it seemed like a good opportunity. Now I know that I was exploited. In Delhi, a daily wage earner gets Rs.350 for working eight hours," he said, looking way older than his age.

The boys also detailed the poor state of hygiene in the work units. Mohammad Kamrun, 12, said 70 workers, which included both children and older workers, stayed together in the same room.

"We slept, ate and worked in the same place. We didn't even get time to bathe, so we used to bathe once a week," he said.

"At times, some boys also got injured by the needles. Then, the employer gave them some medicine and asked them not to work for a day," Kamrun added.

Shrewd that they were, the employers however made simple arrangements - like a CD player for some music - to give the boys the illusion of entertainment.

"The employers know that if the boys get bored or feel exploited, they will attempt to run away. So, like in this case, they kept a CD player for some entertainment," Senger said.

The boys are eagerly looking forward to going back home and starting life afresh. "When we reach home, we will be given a certificate (release certificate under the Bonded Labour Act) and will get Rs.20,000. I want to go back to school...and if my parents ask me to work, I will tell them that I will work only after I have grown up and become an accountant," Nasim smiled.