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Child labour rampant in Chennai hotels: study

By Ramya Kannan

CHENNAI, SEPT. 28. One out of every three persons working in tea shops and six out of ten employed in hotels in Chennai are child labourers.

Underpaid and overworked, the children work 12— 14 hours a day for a paltry sum in conditions resembling bonded labour. While several non-governmental organisations have been crying hoarse about the widespread prevalence of child labour in the hotel/catering industry, the first-ever large-scale study in the sector, by Peace Trust, an NGO working with child labourers, has helped quantify the obvious.

Working with the aim of mapping the locations where children are employed by tea shops and hotels, volunteers spoke to proprietors and labourers in 116 tea shops and 134 hotels. They scanned small, medium and large units at Alandur, Ashok Nagar, Anna Nagar, Alwarpet, Adyar, Adambakkam, Broadway, Choolaimedu, Egmore, Guindy, K.K.Nagar, Kodambakkam, Koyambedu, Madipakkam, Mylapore, Mandeveli, Nanganallur, Royapettah, Saidapet, Teynampet, T.Nagar, Tiruvanmiyur, Triplicane, West Mambalam, Vadapalani and Velachery.

The children employed in the units described the tasks assigned to them as washing utensils, clearing dirty plates, pumping and transporting water in cans, assisting elders in cooking, carrying logs to oven and in some instances, standing outside the hotel to welcome customers.

Long hours of work

Between 60 and 70 per cent of them said they worked nearly continuously for more than 12 hours a day, pausing for a while only to have a meal. The minimum hours of work they were required to put in were eight or 10 hours. The study concluded that 19.73 per cent of children in tea shops and 33.33 per cent in hotels are forced to work more than 14 hours.

Only about 25 per cent of children get paid Rs.50— 60 a day, while the majority get only between Rs. 20-30. There was even a substantial number of children who were not aware of the wages they were being paid, indicating that the conditions of bonded labour exist.

The only other study on child labourers in catering establishments was done about four years ago by the Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation (HRF) in Chennai. "About 45 hotels in seven towns in different districts were taken up as part of the study and all of them employed child labourers," said Ossie Fernandes of HRF.

Later, the organisation called for a meeting involving Labour department officials and urged that the Tamil Nadu Catering Establishments Act, 1958 be amended to ensure stricter monitoring and penalties. "The Act specifies the age of the child as 16 years. A meagre penalty of Rs. 100 is levied for employing children. These aspects have to be amended," he said.

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