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Enslaved children rescued from GAP sweatshop

Oct 30, 2007

Fourteen minors were recently rescued from the clutches of a sub-contractor, working for clothing giant GAP, by a local NGO in Shahpur Jaat area in the Indian capital. But what about the 100,000 child labourers still engaged in embroidery and zari sweatshops in Delhi?

All the rescued children hailed from West Bengal and most of them were below 14 years of age – the youngest of them being an 8-year old boy. The building, where the factory was housed, had rooms crammed with children and adults working on embroidery tables. The air was pungent with stench of open toilets. These children used to work, eat and sleep in the same room with their belongings stacked on the upper shelves.

Contractor argued that children were given appetising food and other facilities, but the dustbin full of rice and overflowing toilets told a different story.

One of the boys was found working on an embroidery table with open wounds on his face and limbs. He was suffering from chicken pox and had not received any medical treatment.

Upon receiving information from Save the Childhood Movement or Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), the police swung into action.

Bhuwan Ribhu, National Secretary of BBA said: “These children were trafficked and sold by middleman. Such incidents show that holistic perspective is required in eliminating child labour. We firmly believe that mere cancellation of orders is not a solution. The business houses must ensure that the contracted manufacturing units do not employ children. They also have to regularly monitor their contractors and sub-contractors for the compliance of labour laws.”

Slave kids driving economic growth

10-year old unpaid workers, who help clothing giants make billions, GAP slave kids is a gloomy reality of Indian growing economy and Indian 'slave' children found making low-cost clothes destined for GAP are some of the news headlines flashing across the world today.

It is disheartening to just imagine that an embroidered top that you are buying for your child is made by another 10-year old. Western brands and designers have been looking for cheap labour in India. Profit at any cost has made them forget that the future of thousands of children is at stake.

Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson of Global March Against Child Labour, said: “We are glad that after so many years the situation has changed a little as the international brand like GAP has admitted that there is child labour involved in their supply chain. We also appreciate their immediate response to this situation. But, we now need a stronger step towards this issue and initiate a monitoring network like Rugmark that ensures that the products are free from child labour.”

The BBA has been targeting the embroidery industry for the last five years. The first such raid was carried out on September 3, 2003 in Okhla, New Delhi from where seven enslaved children were rescued and rehabilitated.

Prof. R. S. Chaurasia, Chairperson of BBA, recalling that raid said: “It was one of the most difficult raids. It was the most dangerous one, as no one was ready to believe that children were involved in zari industry. The lack of political will in eliminating child labour is demoralising for all civil society organisations, which are working against child labour.”

He added that several complaints have been made to various Sub Divisional Magistrates and Labour Minister to conduct raids in the North-West and South Delhi, but to no avail.

BBA estimates that more than 1,000 bonded child labourers can be rescued from these areas, if the raid is conducted.

There are about one lakh child labourers in embroidery and zari sweatshops in Delhi and nearly the same numbers in Mumbai and elsewhere. Rough estimates show that there might be 5,000-7,000 embroidery units functioning in Delhi, with each unit employing around 25-30 children.

Most of these children are trafficked from the states like Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The children, who had been rescued through our raid and rescue operations, reported that they got as little as Rs 20-30 a month and worked for more than 12-14 hours in small crowded rooms with poor lighting and ventilation. As a result, many had developed eye problems and skin allergies.

Need for ethical practices

One of the solutions for the problem of child labour must be found through partnerships and collaborations in evolving innovative mechanisms of ethical trade, including monitoring and labelling of products. Corporations for long have been involved in the business of corporate social responsibility by building schools, clinics, organising health camps, etc.

While this kind of approach has been effective in providing services to the disadvantaged communities, the need of the hour is for the businesses to get their supply and manufacturing chains in order. They have to move beyond mere philanthropy to ethical trading practices.

The government today cannot feign non-existence of child labour, trafficked and bonded labour in the country. Instead of becoming defensive about trade tariffs and sanctions, the concerned departments should enforce the Bonded Labour Act and Child Labour Act. The government departments must also cooperate with civil society organisations and trade unions.

Source : BBA
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