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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 October 2007, 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK
Indian children work despite ban
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Child worker
Thousands of children work in roadside food stalls
A year after India banned children under 14 from working as domestic servants or in food stalls, millions continue to be employed, a study says.

The study released by Save the Children says these children are routinely subjected to different forms of abuse and a lot still needs of be done.

Many of the child workers are denied food, and are beaten up, burnt or sexually abused, the study says.

According to official estimates, India has more than 12 million child workers.

Of these, about 200,000 are estimated to be working as domestic servants and in teashops, restaurants, spas, hotels, resorts and other recreational centres - the areas from where they were banned last year.

No difference

But unofficial figures, quoted by groups working with children, say the country has up to 20 million children working at homes and in food stalls.

And the ban does not seem to have made any difference.

"I recently met a 12-year-old girl, Sonali, in the eastern state of West Bengal. She had been working for the last two years as a domestic servant in the city of Calcutta," Anuradha Maharishi of Save the Children told the BBC.

Rescued child labourers who were employed in textile factories around Delhi <i>(Pic: Geeta Pandey)<i>
Current child legislation is not effective

Sonali's job was to cook for a five-member household and clean a three-storey house. One day there was a delay in serving dinner and her employer poured burning hot food on her hands.

She managed to escape with help from a neighbour and Save the Children have now restored her to her family.

"Although she is 12, she looks like she could be eight or 10. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she showed me her burnt hands. She didn't cry, she's a very brave girl," says Ms Maharishi.

Save the Children says that in Delhi alone, close to a million children are still employed at homes or in food stalls. Another 40,000 work in the southern city of Hyderabad and 50,000 more work in Calcutta.

Lax laws

Since last year when the government announced the ban, officials say only 2,229 violations have been reported.

Save the Children - which works in the states of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra - says that most of these child workers are routinely subjected to abuse and are in unsafe working conditions.

The study says in Delhi 99% of child domestic workers are girls and in a large number of cases they are open to sexual abuse.

Rescued child labourers who were employed in textile factories around Delhi (Pic: Geeta Pandey)
Poverty forces parents to send their young children to work

"Most of these young girls who come from poor families are forced to work up to 15 hours a day with no breaks and little or no pay," Ms Maharishi says.

She says protecting children working as domestic servants is difficult because it is carried out within the confines of private homes and information about their condition does not filter out easily.

Announcing the ban last year, the government had warned "firm action against those violating the law".

Punishments range from a jail term of three months to two years and/or a fine of 10,000 to 20,000 rupees ($225 to $450).

But child rights activists question the effectiveness of the ban in India.

India bans the use of young workers in hazardous industries, but thousands of children continue to work in firecracker and matchstick factories or are involved in carpet-weaving, embroidery or stitching footballs.

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

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