July 5, 2012 2:06 pm

Child slave labour continues in India, despite nation’s laws

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Take a look at some of the goods in your home right now. Do you ever think about where they may have come from?

Everything from your mousepad to jewelry, toys and clothes – chances are they were made by children in India.

As the country’s manufacturing industry booms, so too does the exploitation of child labour.

In Delhi, police hope to stop slavery by visiting factories without warning.

Global National correspondent Tom Popyk met nine-year-old Abu Talim during a recent raid at one basement sweatshop. It’s where Abu and other children spend hours upon hours making sandals.

After working there for the past two years, Abu tells police he still hasn’t been given one cent.

Money – or the lack of it – is what leads many of these kids to work. Usually, shady brokers are luring impoverished youngsters with the promise of cash, food, and a place to sleep.

Sometimes, parents are responsible.  Fathers and mothers will sell their kids to repay debts.  And to make the offer of money even more enticing, some brokers will pay parents for the children’s work in advance.

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However, the fight is on against child labour in India.  Kailash Satyarthi has saved more than 80,000 kids from slavery, but as many as 15 million more still need rescuing.  These kids are being kept in dangerous conditions: making fireworks, working with brick kilns, pesticide-laden factories, near asbestos or other hazardous chemicals.

At a raid last month, Satyarthi found children breaking down metals and mixing alloys.  ”Some of them were working in acid and metal,” he said.

Other places will have kids embroider women’s clothing, including saris.  Certain industries that involve intricate machinery or delicate handiwork are said to prefer the smaller hands of children.

Regardless of the type of work they do, these kids have been coached to deflect questions from authorities.  During a raid in June, one 11-year-old claimed he was choosing to work during a “holiday.”

The situation remains dire for children who aren’t being hidden in sweatshops.  Instead, they may be out on the streets begging for change or rummaging through garbage.

But Satyarthi is on a mission to change all that.  He founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan, an organization trying to help India’s kids. Dozens of Indian MPs have joined its “Child Labour Free India Campaign.” Former child labourers are also working on the movement.

Despite this, he tells Global News “a lack of political will is the crux of the whole problem.”

India recently passed a law aimed at battling child labour by making education mandatory up to age 14.  But as Satyarthi points out, the law just isn’t being enforced.  As kids slave away, some unscrupulous officials often turn a blind eye and take a cut.

“It’s greed, because children are the cheapest labour. That’s why they are preferred. They cannot run away, they cannot raise their hand against any kind of abuse,” Satyarthi says.

On Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s website, he says the education law conflicts with other, outdated legislations. “A child labour law of 1986 is an obsolete and anti-childhood legislation and in conflict with other laws like Right To Education and Juvenile Justice Act. Therefore it is non-negotiable to continue with any forms of child labour up to 14 years of age and hazardous labour until 18.”

For those kids who are rescued, the thought of freedom may sound like pure relief – but it actually could be terrifying, because working in the sweatshop is the only life some of them know.

Officers tell Global News that rescued children will get a medical checkup, education, and almost 500 dollars in government aid.

After just a few hours of being freed, kids filled with fear now have a future, and soon, they’ll be reunited with family.  Those without relatives will end up in a state welfare home for children.

According to Bachpan Bachao Andolan, fewer girls are involved in child labour in India than in previous years. But more boys – about eight million – have been recruited in recent years.

The charity says it rescued 1,300 children last year from work in Delhi factories.

Global March, another India-based agency trying to stop slavery, says an estimated 215 million children labourers aren’t just in factories – but farms, homes, streets, and even mines and battlefields.

With files from The Associated Press

Follow Tom on Twitter: @TPopykGlobal 

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