Millennium Post

A lost generation

Does it take a fatal fire for authorities to realise the prevalence of child labour in urban factories of Delhi? Repeated fires at factories like the ones in Anaj Mandi have time and again shown how children's lives are put at risk by forcing them into factory work

The Anaj Mandi inferno that killed 43 earlier this month has once again ignited the debate over child labour in urban factories of Delhi, after it was discovered that some among the deceased and rescued could have been minors. As an inadvertent result of poverty, children living in remote areas of the country are sent to the Capital to earn money for the family, often in extremely hazardous environments.

Once they get to Delhi, they are employed by factory owners who force them to work for 10-12 hours every day in their factories. Children are often made, not only to work at the factory but also sleep and eat there, so that their movement can be strictly monitored and restricted.

Recently, a report released by a child rights body revealed the situation of child labour to be quite grim. Officials from the Child Rights commission had conducted a door-to-door survey of 600 establishments in which they found 95 children working in various establishments including factories, shops and restaurants in the Mangolpuri area. The report further claimed that children under the age of 14 years were involved in hazardous labour.

Rescue operations

In November, 45 children aged between 11 and 17 were gathered from six diary, file-making and refrigerator packing material units from Ghodewali Gali under the directive of Deshbandhu Gupta police station of Karol Bagh. They were rescued after a three-hour-long operation. It was later revealed that most of the children were not paid in time and some of them were each paid a paltry sum of Rs 2,000 once in eight months. Others were handed out a one-time Rs 5,000 payout over a period of several months. An 11 year-old child was being paid Rs 100 a week.

In October, as many as 45 child labourers were rescued from the premises of 14 factories in NorthWest Delhi's Wazirpur Industrial area. After the rescue, the children were gathered at one place and most of them had fine dust covering their arms and faces. Few children had wrapped a piece of cloth on their face to save themselves from the dust that flew from the steel that they were polishing.

In May, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) and Ghaziabad Police rescued a total of 14 children, all boys, while they were being taken to Jharkhand by a few labour contractors.

Again in May, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) rescued nine children from the premises of two factories in North West Delhi's Lawrence Road area. The child rights body said that both the factory owners were engaged in hazardous work without any safety. The Delhi Police registered a case in this regard.

Such urban factories are mostly involved in plastic utensil manufacturing, backpack stitching, jacket-making and other packing units. The factory that caught fire in Anaj Mandi was one such factory, without any fire safety clearance from the Delhi Fire Services.

According to data gathered by Delhi Police, as many as 118 cases were registered in 2018 under the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act. As far as 2019 is concerned, the police have registered 109 such cases till October, of which the Delhi Police has solved 51, with 56 arrests to show for it.

Poverty & trafficking

Poverty is the main reason which forces parents to send their children to the National Capital. According to an official from the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR), human traffickers give some money to poor villagers in return for trafficking their children to the city. From remote areas of Jharkhand, UP , Bihar, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Assam, children are trafficked to the National Capital for labour jobs. In Delhi, they are employed in factories, small units or as domestic maids. Fake placement agencies also play an important role in human trafficking. Roop Sudesh Vimal, member of DCPCR stated that to get cheap labourers, factory owners contact small level contractors.

"After getting an estimate of the number of children required for a labour job, the contractor will contact his associates sitting in different states and tell them to send children," said Roop Sudesh Vimal, adding that the children are sent through train or buses. The child rights body is also probing whether these contractors are human traffickers. Moreover, an NCPCR guidebook says, "Traffickers use railways for trafficking of children from remote parts of the country for labour or sexual exploitations and are always on the lookout for vulnerable children travelling alone to meet their selfish motives."

He further stated that during the investigation, in most of the cases, they have found that children under the age group of 12-16 years are in demand for labour work. "Children of this age group do not understand their own profit and loss. They are forced to work for 10-12 hours every day for just Rs 3,000-4,000 per month," he said. According to an official, they are also probing the modus operandi used to ascertain whether the human traffickers are using break journeys to bring children into Delhi-NCR. However, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) Joy Tirkey told Millennium Post that they have not found any organised racket involved in child labour in the city. He further insisted that children run away from home and then come to Delhi. "To feed themselves they started doing work in factories and other places," said DCP Tirkey. The Anti Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) of the Crime Branch has rescued 590 children under Operation Milap this year. Most of these children have been rescued from bus stands, railway stations and other places in Delhi. These children are mostly from Rajasthan, Western UP and Haryana. Apart from rescuing children, AHTU has also recovered 905 kidnapped, abducted and missing persons while investigating cases registered in Delhi. Out of these 905, 520 were women and 144 were minors. Recovered persons also included elderly and mentally challenged people.

Vigil on trains

Investigators in the Railway Protection Force told Millennium Post that they keep a tab on the trains coming from Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and North Eastern part of the country. "With the help of source information, we conduct raids to catch kidnappers or human traffickers," an RPF official said. He added that the children, who are kidnapped or trafficked, remains in dizzy condition during railway journey so that they cannot talk to other passengers. A N. Jha, Senior Divisional Security Commissioner, RPF, stated that they are sensitizing their staff regarding child rights and also on how to identify children in distress at railway stations.

According to NCPCR's guidebook for creating a child-friendly and protective environment for children in contact with railways, every 5 minutes a child arrives alone at a major railway station in India. Children are often found travelling alone in the trains or engaged in vending, begging, rag picking and living at the station premises.

Most of these children are runaways and generally live in difficult circumstances, belong to dysfunctional, poverty-stricken or broken families and are prone to dangers of over-crowding and abusive conditions at their homes. They use the railway network as it is the most easily accessible transport to get to the cites - where there is hope of finding a better life. The guidebook further claimed that thousands of children arrive at vast, chaotic railway stations and find themselves lost, alone and scared, with no idea as to where to go or what to do. Such children are unaccompanied, without the means of sustenance and basic amenities, are vulnerable and at risk of law-breaking or coming in conflict with the law.

But alas, it remains to be seen whether Delhi will need to wait for another fatal fire for this issue to get the spotlight it deserves.

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