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Child labour keeps this industry thriving

Though the Special Cell of the Delhi police rescued 43 children allegedly working under inhuman conditions in an embroidery unit in South Delhi this past Wednesday, those associated with the anti-child labour movement feel that it is just a tip of the iceberg and there is need for a more concerted effort to save juveniles who are caught in the web of the flourishing embroidery industry in the Capital.

The embroidery industry, which supports the garment export business, thrives mostly on child labour. This is mainly because the intricacy involved in the work requires the application of soft and flexible fingers. According to a rough estimate, there are nearly 5,000 embroidery units functional in the Capital, mostly in the trans-Yamuna area besides Khanpur, Sangam Vihar and Okhla in South Delhi.

While over 20,000 children are suspected to be working in these units, surveys have revealed that most of them have been trafficked from Bihar. Also, almost 60 per cent of the unit owners come from the same region, mainly Sitamarhi. These unit owners convince their fellow-villagers to send their children to "learn" the art of embroidery and push them into child labour.

"After the children are brought here, they are kept in small accommodations and made to work for 15 to 20 hours daily. While some of them get an average monthly salary of nearly Rs. 300 and three-quarter meal a day, most of them work on just `food for work' basis," said Junned Khan, who works for the non-government organisation "Pratham''. To ensure that the children do not flee away, the owners keep them in confinement and provide them tape-recorders and televisions for entertainment. They also get "dhabas" built near the units so that the children do not have to go far for food. Such dhabas in their parlance are called "B.C.'' (Bihari Ckhana).

Due to the sheer pressure of meeting targets and the working environment, several children develop orthopaedic and vision-related problems. After three to four years, when they grow older, they do not remain fit for the job and are driven away by the embroidery owners to be replaced by younger and more nimble hands.

Ironically, the issue of child labour has not been able to attract much attention from any quarter, despite the fact that several NGOs are functioning in this area.

For their part, the police claim that they conduct rescue operations as and when they get information. While thousands of children are being trafficked into the Capital every day in an organised manner and their exploitation continues, it is hard to believe that the local police are oblivious of the illegal activities in their jurisdiction.

Although they have of late conducted raids and rescued some victims of child labour, the police will have to launch a full-fledged operation to check this illegal business. Joining hands with agencies that are working in the area and are aware of the ground realities would be step in the right direction.

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