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Monday, 06 Jul 2020

Lockouts moment Make Child Labor in India Finally Can Return to Their Home Village

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Vijay Kewat waits patiently at the Gaya train station, ready to accept 100 child laborers who return home under Indian lockout. He was speechless when instead 500 children got off the train instead.

"It was an extraordinary sight, and even officials were stunned," said the child rights activist.

Abandoned by employers and forced to pack hurriedly on a special train to take migrant workers home, the children spilled onto the platform at Gaya Station in eastern India last week, Kewat said.

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And many soon disappeared to the nearest streets, he added.

"That day at the station, everyone realized that there are thousands of trafficked children who are sent back home when the factory is closed and no one is documenting these returns," said Kewat, who works at the Direct Center charity.

Over the past two weeks, similar cases have been reported from Rajasthan to Assam to Delhi, all states where children have been rescued and sent to quarantine centers.

India has launched several campaigns to examine child labor in recent years, cracking down on factories where children are employed to make bracelets, sewing shoes or sequins.

This vigilance only pushes deeper trade underground, child rights activists say, on a scale now seen when employers are frightened of leaving or disposing of children, many of them trafficked into illegal work.

Indian labor laws prohibit the employment of anyone under the age of 15, but children are permitted to support family business outside school hours. Employers and human traffickers exploit this provision widely, child rights activists say. With transportation starting to resume after tight locking, child workers are sent back home by their employers, armed with fake identity documents, child rights activists say.

Some are accompanied by their traders and risk trading again once the business reopens, they added. "Since the locking started, we have been worried about children trapped in the workshop," said Basant Haryana of the Children's Rights Watch Group in the city of western Jaipur, where children are accustomed to making popular handicrafts.

"We first saw them queuing for food, and then when the lockdown subsided, they were only placed on private buses and sent home illegally. The opportunity to document it was lost."

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Haryana was a petitioner in a case filed in the Rajasthan High Court in Jaipur, asking the state to save child labor during locking up, citing examples of children who had been beaten and abandoned. The death of a 12-year-old farm laborer in April traveling 100km (62 miles) in lockout highlights the suffering of child labor, which according to the UN totals 10 million in India.

"We are aware of every case we hear," said Priyank Kanoongo, chairman of the Indian National Commission for Child Protection. "We ourselves have been involved in some rescue," he said. "We want these children to be counted and cared for."

Three years after he was trafficked to the office, Meena Devi's son called last month and told his mother that he hoped to return home.

Caught in lockdown, the teenager was unsure of his location or how he could return from his job caring for a goat. "They took him and said he would get a good job in Mumbai or somewhere and disappear with him," Devi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone from his village in the Gaya district.

"I was worried but could not do anything and then suddenly he called a few days ago. I asked him if he was getting food and safe. He said 'yes' and asked me to take him home."

Children who work in hazardous jobs are at higher risk now because no employer will reveal their identity and number because hiring them is a criminal offense, said Puja Marwaha, CEO of the Children's Rights and You (CRY) charity.

"Child protection services must be part of important services," Marwaha said, adding that the government must make special efforts to track all children and their families.

In countries such as Bihar, with more than 450,000 child laborers, mechanisms are in place to map child labor. "We are trying to track returning children, especially those who are not accompanied," said Pramila Kumar, chairman of the Bihar State Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (BSCPCR).

"This is organized crime, and we want to ensure that children who have returned home do not return to work."
 





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