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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 19:10 GMT
Child workers refuse to quit jobs

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Rescued child labourers who were employed in textile factories around Delhi
Poverty forces parents to send their young children to work
Aid workers say some children rescued from working illegally in the Indian capital, Delhi, are refusing to leave their jobs to go back home.

Indian authorities rescued nearly 500 children, aged between five and 14 years, in one of their biggest raids across the Delhi on Monday.

The raids were carried out by the labour department and the Delhi police.

Employing children below the age of 14 is illegal in India.

But millions of children are employed as child labourers in homes and factories.

Most of the 500 rescued children worked in textile factories, doing intricate embroidery work.

Unhealthy conditions

Many parents say crippling poverty forces them to send their children, sometimes as young as five or six, to work in people's homes or even factories.

Most of these children are made to work in unhealthy conditions for very long hours and paid poorly.

Rescued child labourers who were employed in textile factories around Delhi
Most children are unhappy and confused at being rescued

"Normally they work in small rooms, poorly ventilated and badly lit. And most work for more than 10 hours a day," says M Rajan, the managing trustee of Pratham, the NGO which collected the data on these children.

In south Delhi's commercial district of Bhikaji Cama place - where a temporary shelter has been set up by the NGO for the rescued children - some 60 boys occupy a large hall.

Every inch of the floor space is covered in mattresses.

Some of the boys are sleeping, while others sit huddled in groups.

There are nine such halls, which act as shelters, in this complex.

Mr Rajan says the children will be kept here for a week.

They will be produced in the court in a day or two, and then arrangements will be made to send them back home.

Uncertain future

Most children in this room appear unhappy and confused, even though they had been rescued from their employers.

At least a dozen hands go up when Pratham volunteers ask them who wants to go back to work.

Many say they are concerned about their clothes and belongings, left behind at the factories where they worked.

Mohammad Ramzani, one of the rescued child labourers
Mohammad Ramzani earned roughly $6.5 a month

Pratham volunteers say some of the children have even tried to escape from the shelter.

Mohammad Ramzani tells me he is 16 years old. But he looks no more than nine.

He came to Delhi two months ago and worked in a handicrafts firm.

He worked eight hours every day and at the end of the month, his manager sent 300 rupees (nearly $6.5) to his mother in Katihar, in Bihar state.

"I do not really like working, but I have no choice," says Ramzani.

Between sobs, he tells me he is the sole bread winner in his family.

His mother and his younger brother are dependent on his earnings.

No choice

Also from the state of Bihar is 13-year old Mohammad Tabrez Alam, who has been working in Delhi for a year and a half now.

"We used to start work at nine in the morning. Most days we worked till 12 or 1 in the night," he said.

And for his pains, Tabrez was paid a pocket money of 50 rupees (just over $1) a week, and at the end of the month, his employer sent 800 rupees (roughly $17) to his parents.

Alam has never been to school and can neither read nor write.

Tabrez Alam, one of the rescued child labourers
Tabrez Alam wants go back to work

He does not have many plans for the future.

"I will take up any work I can find. There is not much to do back home so I will have to go somewhere else to find work," he says.

Perhaps that explains why forcibly rescuing children from factories does not work.

Most such children have nothing to go back to.

Their parents are unable to provide for them, and many return to work once the dust settles.

Mr Rajan says it is the failure of the government to implement social welfare schemes which helps child labour to thrive in India.

"It is one thing to formulate programmes at the national level, but there has to be a system which ensures that the local governments implement these schemes."

Mr Rajan agrees that most of the children will eventually return to work.

But he says he is hopeful that at least some will go back to school.


SEE ALSO:
Educating India's child labourers
13 Sep 05 |  South Asia
Misery of India's child sari weavers
29 Aug 05 |  South Asia
'Child labourers' freed in Mumbai
01 Jun 05 |  South Asia


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