Often children run away from home and come to Secunderabad in search of greener pastures. But they get caught in a whirlpool of child labour
Begging for alms, picking up rags, selling pirated CDs, cleaning railway compartments or hotel washrooms, working in canteens are probably what you’ll find most underprivileged children doing at railway stations and the Secunderabad railway station is no exception.
Often a passer by gives them a few rupees to them so they can buy themselves one wholesome meal at least. But that is where most of us are mistaken. What these children do is, buy whitener to sniff. Since the money they get is too less to buy them a meal, they resort to this to help kill the hunger and sleep a couple of hours.
Harsh as it may sound, this is the reality for several children who call the railway station their home. Especially, in a country where the incidence of child labour is extremely high. In fact, India ranks second after Africa for the highest number of child labourers. Children constitute 36 per cent of India’s population and it is a shame that a large number of children suffer from malnutrition, poverty, disease, cruel exploitation through forced child labour and all this due to lack of education.
Ironically, Secunderabad is the hot spot where children from other parts of the country come for employment. “A lot of children from Bihar and Orissa come here in search of a job. They run away from home with high expectations but when they come here they are trapped by brokers and are exploited,” says M Kantha Rao, railway police superintendent.
He further compares them to chicken in a poultry farms that are stuffed in one room with no breathing space. “Hundreds of children are forced to live under one roof, with no basic amenities. They are also made to work for more than 12 hours a day,” he says.
The reasons for leaving home are plenty — a fight with parents, abusive parents, discord between the parents, financial problems etc. Most of these children then head to Secunderabad in search of greener pastures. This is how many children end up at the railway station which has become a hot spot for child trading.
Dozens of children are trafficked each day from these places. Hence, to tackle this menace the Secunderabad railway police has started a new initiative. For the last eight months they have been vigilant and have appointed groups of officers who keep an eye and resuce missing children of those who engaged in child labour.
“We have a fool proof mechanism. We catch one child and through him or her we trace the whole gang and the main broker too,” says M Gopal Rao, special branch, railway police head constable.
In the last two weeks alone the Secunderabad railway police has rescued three such groups of children who were held hostage and were being exploited. Cases have also been booked against the accused.
Gopal Rao recalls his last rescue operation. “We found one child and through him we located a building in Mahankali where children were kept hostage and made to clean gold with chemical solutions. These children had developed skin infections due to the chemicalss. However, when we undertake such operations, children run away seeing us. Despite that we were able to catch 12 children last week and also booked a case against the owner.”
According to police officials there are several such people in the City who employee young children. These children are then forced to work for a meagre pay at places like tanneries, shoe factories, hotels and shops in the Old City.
Eleven police stations have appointed a Child welfare police officer (CWPO) each. Once a child is rescued, he/she is handed over to these officers who counsel the child. “Most of these children lie. They are too scared to tell us the truth so most of the time they claim that their parents are dead so that we don’t send them home. Hence, we counsel them so we can learn the truth,” says Kantha Rao.
If it is found that the child belongs to another state then his/her case is transferred there. If the child is from AP and the parents are alive the child and the parents are counseled before sending the former back home. If none of this happens then, the children are sent to shelters.
The rehabilitation process takes places at the various transit homes. Some are government run while others are run by NGOs in collaboration with the AP police department and child welfare wing. In some homes, the children are offered emotional support which leads to behavioural changes, after which the child is reunited with his/her family.
There are separate homes for orphaned children, where these children are provided with their basic needs and facilities and are admitted to government schools.
For children who have dropped out of school, there is home schooling. Here they are made to revise whatever they’d learnt earlier and are geared up to be sent to a regular school in one year’s time.
The Indian Parliament enacting the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act in 1976, despite which the system still continues. Hence, the only solution to this problem is sending children ‘back to school’.
The AP government and NGOs in the State strongly believe that education is the best option to kill the practice of child labour in the City. Therefore, after a child is rescued great emphasis is laid on rehabilitation and education.
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