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Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
India's child labour laws failing
Indian children carrying coal
Children are often victims of labour exploitation

India is coming under increasing pressure to take action over massive human rights abuses against child workers and indentured labourers.

Investigations show that it has more child labourers than any other country - and that millions of adult labourers still work in near slave like conditions - despite laws being passed to stop it.

For example, government-owned land is leased out for quarrying to private contractors - who are meant to have signed up to India's state of the art labour laws.

But the men working the sites have no safety gear at all, no helmets, shoes, masks, and claim that they are being paid only half of what they had been promised.

Victims opinion

Ram Yadav was until a few years ago a bonded labourer, condemned to work off a debt run up by his parents.

Children in India
Many children have forgotten how to play
He was freed because a charity went to court on his behalf.

Now he goes round checking on conditions of other workers.

"I'm telling you, the laws are there for you, but the politicians and the mine owners get together to make sure you have to work under conditions which are no better than for animals," he says.

No serious safety equipment could be seen anywhere through the quarries.

Flaw in government

The finger of blame is firmly pointed at vested interests - including those in government - who are making money out of it - and therefore there is no political will to stop it.

India has world standard labour legislation, but in practice it has more slave and abused labourers than any other country.

The whole system is riddled with corruption, with politicians and contractors benefiting from it.

Amazingly VK Sharma, in the office of the local labour commission, agreed to the accusation.

Care centres

The allegation of government neglect in this issue becomes more stark at a near-by care centre for children who recently were victims of abusive labour.

A child using a hammer
Many are unprotected by the law
They are aged between 10 and 15, and are now learning how to play again and going through special trauma counselling.

The centre is run - not by the government, but by a charity, which often has to go to the courts to get a child freed from work.

Kailash Satyarthi of South Asian Coalition Against Child Labour said: "We see a massive abuse of human rights and labour rights in government contracted works. But the greyest area is the implementation of law".

Evidences

Evidence for this was clear when you consider the case of Sada Abhindar was making bricks near a police station.

The police saw him everyday but did nothing.

And until recently Surita Rania was working to pay off her father's loan.

She gathers firewood and breaks up quarry stones.

But when she got things wrong, they hit her hands with a metal rod.

In this vast country there are many more like Surita and Sada - lone children unprotected by the law.

See also:

06 May 02 | Business
24 Apr 02 | Education
06 May 02 | South Asia
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