New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) Being forced to sit like a hen for hours or getting thrashed for being slow at work. Or being starved as punishment and not given enought to eat. This is not a throwback to a 17th century slave plantation but an instance of the modern day travails of children in India as young as eight who work in the numerous manufacturing and handicraft units, small-time eateries and factories in and around the capital.
Eight-year old Aman, who was recently rescued from a zari embroidery unit, says that the punishments meted out in these factories are severe.
"I was brought to Delhi from Nepal by an uncle in my village. My parents were told I will have a better life in India and I will be sent to a good school to learn the art of zari embroidery. Coming here, I was made to work in a zari unit from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., was given food twice a day, without being allowed to go out of the building," Aman told IANS.
His tale is similar to Satvik's horrific ordeal. His employer would make him sit like a hen and cane him for being slow in his work as an embroiderer.
According to the 2001 census, there were officially 12.9 million child labourers in India, though child rights activists say the figure is much higher. The figure for Delhi was 41,899, but civil society and NGOs like Save the Children estimate it about 50,000 to 200,000.
Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), an NGO working for children, said a large number of children are trafficked from poor and underdeveloped states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh to cities like Delhi and Mumbai and made to work in various industries for paltry wages.
BBA conducted 164 raids across India from January 2012 till June 6 and rescued 1,742 child labourers. In Delhi alone, it conducted 78 raids and liberated 1,049 bonded labourers. Almost 90 percent of the rescued children spoke of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers.
"Most of them are weak, look starved, have scars on their bodies and are emotionally traumatised. To keep them awake, certain employers play popular Bollywood and Bhojpuri songs," Preeti Sharma, a volunteer, told IANS.
Narrating his story, Rizwan, a rescued boy, said: "I was brought to Delhi in the name of better livelihood opportunities. I was told that in Delhi I can study and earn as well. But here I was made to work for 16 hours a day and was given Rs.200 a week. Once the supervisor hit me so hard that from then on my vision is blurred."
Similar are the stories of 13-year-old Ranjan and 10-year-old Manu, who toil away cleaning dirty dishes at small eateries in a cramped street in Chandni Chowk in old Delhi from dawn to dusk.
"It is back-breaking work but I have no choice but to work in a dhaba to earn some money to help my mother run the house, with three other siblings to feed. My father died in a road accident three years ago," Ranjan told IANS.
Social activists say that in the capital alone more than 2,000 placement agencies are operating, of which only 24 are registered with the government.
"It is known to everybody that most of the placement agencies working here are functioning illegally. Every now and then, we rescue children, particularly girls who are brought to work as maids from poverty-stricken states," BBA chariperson R.S Chaurasia told IANS.
"A political will and stringent laws are needed to curb such activities," Chaurasia added.
A senior government official said the home ministry will soon bring a stringent law against such placement agencies.
"The Home Ministry will soon come out with a stringent law against such placement agencies that are responsible for the booming child bonded labour industry in the country," a senior official told IANS, pleading anonymity.
Child right activists say that there are many laws, for example, The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, but there is a clear lack of execution by authorities, the bane of most laws in the country.