Karela Fry

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Why say no to diwali crackers?

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In spite of the fact that child labour is banned, horrific stories like these appear sporadically in the news. This report is from TOI:

Delhi was again confronted with the ugly truth of child labour in its midst when a 10-year-old migrant working in a beedi-making unit died after being allegedly beaten up by his employer. The boy was about to be buried on Sunday morning when an alert cemetery caretaker called the police.

Kaleemullah, the owner of the beedi unit being run from a rented room in northwest Delhi’s Bharat Nagar, is absconding since Saturday night. Neighbours claimed that the child had been working there for almost two months.

”It appears that the suspect beat the child on Saturday night and when he died, fled the spot. The child had been bathed and wrapped in cloth as per burial rites and was taken to the cemetery by Kaleemullah’s brother and others. We are interrogating them to check if they knew about the cause of Moin’s death,” said a senior police officer.

Laws regarding these children are seldom imposed by those who are tasked with it; instead NGOs try to fill the gap between the law and its practice. Here is a follow-up report from Outlook about the NGOs:

Asked about the incident, NCPCR [National Commission for Protection of Child Rights] Chairperson Shanta Sinha said it is a matter of “great distress” that child labour is still prevalent and felt that the authorities concerned will have to do more to stop the practice.

“Strict action will have to be taken against the employer but that is not enough. The departments concerned, like labour department and police, will have to act to prevent child labour. The government will have to ensure that all children are in school, as the Right to Education Act has come into force and education is now a fundamental right,” she said.

Kailash Satyarthi, founder of child rights NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), said traffickers and owners employing children in their manufacturing units are becoming more desperate in recent times, even attacking the rescue teams who conduct raids to retrieve trafficked children.

It is corruption, of course, which is at the base of non-enforcement of the law. The magnitude of the problem is staggering. According to TOI:

At present, there are three million human trafficking victims in India of which 1.2 million are children — this is what figures released by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) state. With 60,000 children going missing each year, of which a dismal 30% are rescued or traced, Delhi alone has over 1 lakh children who are employed in various hazardous occupations.

Not only little sweatshops, large multinationals such as Monsanto also exploit children, as Forbes reported three years ago:

At the edge of where Jyothi is working, a rusting sign proclaims, “Monsanto India Limited Child Labour Free Fields.” Jyothi says she has been working in these fields for the past five years, since her father, a cotton farmer, committed suicide after incurring huge debts. On a recent December morning there were teens picking cotton in nearly all of a half-dozen Monsanto farms in Uyyalawada, 250 miles south of India’s high-tech hub Hyderabad. Last year 420,000 laborers under the age of 18 were employed in cottonseed farms in four states across India, estimates Glocal Research, a consultancy in Hyderabad that monitors agricultural labor conditions. Of that total 54% were under the age of 14 and illegally employed.

The law prohibits children under 14 from working in factories, slaughterhouses or other dangerous locations. There are some exceptions for farmwork–if the hours are limited, the kids are in school and there are no machines to be operated. But children like Jyothi put in ten-hour days in the field and miss school. Teenagers 14 to 18 years old can work during the day in factories but no more than 36 hours a week. Employer penalties include fines and imprisonment. But enforcement of the law is lax.

Bayer, Advanta, Emergent Genetics are also named here.

What action is open to us when the state is corrupt? One solution was pioneered by Gandhi: economic boycott. Maybe that will not work against beedi manufacturers, but there are any number of other hazardous manufacturing processes for goods that come into middle class homes which depend on child labour. By refusing to use products manufactured by children, especially by some companies which make fire crackers, diamonds, silk, glass, agarbatti, soap and various other handicrafts, we could take a stand against murders of children.

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