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This 14-year-old girl from a small village of Jharkhand lives in abject poverty. Her parents find it hard to make ends meet. Then they see a ray of bright hope. A man from the neighbouring village who has made it big in the Indian capital and is a role model for all offers the girl a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The girl is apprehensive. She does not wish to go so far away in a place unknown. But the parents are insistent, driven to the brink with their poverty and hopelessness. The girl is told that she will work in luxury, live in a caring house and can earn a lot of money that will in turn be sent back to her family. The girl allows herself to dream just a wee bit. Suddenly the big city of Delhi seems exciting. Alas, her dreams were shortlived. As soon as she is taken to Delhi, she is kept in a dark room with other girls of a similar age, herded together like cattle with hardly any food that was enough for sustenance. The very next day she finds herself shunted to a large kothi (mansion) in Delhi. Maybe it is the end of her problems, she breathes. No, it was just the beginning! She is made to slog from morning to night, made to do work that an adult would find hard to manage. Given leftovers and hardly any food, she is perpetually hungry and tired but she slaves on. Then comes the slapping. Both the master and the mistress of the house hit her at the smallest pretext. Suffering the pain and humiliation, she labors on. When she asks to call her family, she is not allowed to. She is not permitted to visit them even when a year has passed by. For all practical purposes, this 14-year-old girl is a bonded laborer.

child freeWhile the family gathers on their cozy sofas and laments the state of the country, a human rights violation of preposterous dimensions happens right under their roof! And don’t be under any false impression. None of the money that she earns reaches her family. It is pocketed by that slimy guy from the placement agency who has made it big in this city trampling over the heads of hundreds and thousands of innocents to fill his coffers. You see such guys and dubious agencies mushrooming in all large cities, especially in North India where hapless children are bought and sold daily, exploited mentally and physically and also sexually abused. The story given above is true.

Look around yourself. You will see this little girl around you, wearing oversized clothes and a frightened expression, sometimes sporting a bruise, at all times a bruised soul. This is how the educated, it’s always the rich and the educated, who indulge in this human trafficking, child labor and exploitation. Whether it is a babysitter who is taking care of someone just a few years younger to her or a child who cooks and cleans, slowly and methodically we are killing their childhoods and spirits and also committing heinous crimes.

Alas the lax Indian laws and even worse implementation allow the influential families to get away and back to their old ways. Clearly our country has no moral fabric left when despite having our own children we do not hesitate in brutally abusing the rights of others for the sake of comfort. Pick up the newspapers and find these tales of brutality every day.

What can you and I do?

  • Pledge to never ever employ children no matter how much we tell ourselves that we are being kind to their families and helping them monetarily. It is delusional. If you wish to help the child and their family, sponsor the child’s education.
  • Break off contact with your neighbors after raising the issue of the exploitation with them. I believe social ostracization of such people can work. What is the point of interacting, laughing and chatting with them and bitching behind their backs? Do not stay quiet if you see a poor child getting abused. What does it make you if you turn a blind eye?
  • Reach out to child helplines or NGOs to report any children that you see employed in your neighborhood. You can do this anonymously as well. Google for child helplines in your city.

Yesterday, 12th June, was World Day against Child Labour. Can we all try to combat this evil and eradicate this from our society? It will mean slaying our own demons and sacrificing our comforts and even some friends/monsters who are indulging in it. I hope the government brings in the toughest of laws including harsh jail terms for all the perpetrators of this offense.

child labor

These children deserve to have an exploitation-free childhood, and we need a clearer conscience!Let that child free.

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48 Thoughts on “Let that child free!

  1. It’s a sad sad reality…abysmal state of affairs I must say…You have rightly said about the moral fabric of this country…Women and children illtrated and tortured and we brag about being Indian! But I think we have forgotten the very basic concept of being human first … Good that you wrote about this Rachna…

    • Thanks, Nabanita. Why are we like this, I wonder so often? And I must tell you that this is much more prevalent among the North Indians. I don’t see this live-in maid or babysitter ill treatment here. I feel sick to even talk to such people, Naba.

  2. My post yesterday was on the same context and was linked to your post ‘Seema’s agony’. This cannot stop unless we as a society make it stop. I was nodding all along while reading the pointers. And you rightly stated that it is always the rich and educated that indulge in such atrocities. A Gucci bag, a Tissot watch, a Burberry perfume, a Manish Malhotra attire is all affordable to them, but they cannot afford to spend a penny selflessly for these poor kids. Sad reality of a country that boasts of ‘Bachhe to bhagwaan ki den hote hain’. And this is how you treat the gift from God. Sigh!

    • Your post wass lovely, Rekha, so much more detailed and the real-life experiences were chilling. Yes, I agree! We have to make the society stop this. And that can happen with really strict laws and implementation on the one hand and social boycott on the other. Seriously, such scum of the earth who have the money but will not spare even a little of it on someone poor who does so much work for them.

  3. Between Scylla and Charybdis on this one, Rachna! Fully in agreement with all the arguments AGAINST child labor BUT with the sort of poverty that we have, I find it hard to argue with the family that engages its children in them.

    I do not have a live-in servant, but the one that comes home has taken off her eldest girl from school. That girl is now coming around along with her mom to my home. I am unable to get on my high horse and chastise the mother for it, since I cannot afford to carry her child’s expenses on my own AND I really cannot offer her any other credible alternative for the crushing poverty that they live with. It would be easy for me to spout the law and the morals BUT will that solve her problems?

    Ill-treatment, I bar AND I really hate the idea of a child losing her childhood, all prospects of bettering herself and being coerced into a form of slavery that work without choices IS, but really, short of eradicating poverty, is there ONE right answer? I mean for the question of using children in economic work AND not for maltreating and exploiting them. If I could be sure that the total banning of child labor would avoid all the ill-effects I would be all for it. The problem is the possibility that it would only enslave the child to hunger and poverty.

    An allied issue is that, in a way, the fact that it is criminalized and, yet, seen as necessary for survival, makes the child and its parents, colluders in hiding issues of maltreatment from the law, since the involvement of the law would deprive them of the income. This makes the children all the more vulnerable and the sadistic among the employers all the more emboldened.

    THIS is not to say that child labor is inevitable and needs to be legalized or condoned. It was meant to highlight that the root cause is POVERTY and, as long as that exists, the answers to this question will always be six of one and half a dozen of the other.

    • Suresh, I agree that in abject poverty who can blame the parents for expecting the children to generate an extra buck. About your maid, why did she need to take her girl out of school? Was it due to lack of money or that she thought that her girl would help her earn some extra money? Sometimes maids bring their little children along because no one is at home to look after them. In all those cases, I ask the maid to not let the child work. She can sit in a corner and watch. For me, it is very clear, if my own children do not do that work at their age, how can children younger than them be made to do that work just because they are poor.

      As far as your larger question is concerned, sure poverty is a huge problem and often leads to other problems. All I am saying is that I will not allow a child to work in my home because it is wrong and illegal too. Sending hapless children out to work opens doors for all sorts of abuse including physical. Unless, as a society, we decide not to employ children, I don’t see how this menace will ever end. Besides, most importantly my conscience will never allow it. I did support the education of one of my maid’s sons. It is something that we can surely chip in if not fund completely. I think it is something worth considering as social responsibility.

  4. Such a scourge this is. And I agree, perhaps social shaming is the only way we rid this from our midst.

    • I feel similarly. Yet the world is filled with people pleasers who would make a lot of noise in their circles but will not put their money where their mouth is. It frustrates me no end. All I end up doing is cutting off social contact with such people. But most others carry on as usual.

  5. When I was small Mummy kept one girl as a maid. Fresh from my learnings in school, I would say, Mummy you should not employ children. Sje would say, If I don’t someone will’. The gril would sit with us and eat, she would get new clothes when we got one, and in addition she would take home food for her siblings too. We would teach her and in a short time she learnt to put her own signature. But then her family moved away. So was it wrong to employ her?
    My mil looked after the children of the farm help as her own. Very often her children would not get any butter or milk while the children of the farm helps got. One child who was dumb and deaf got the first and the best share of everything. Today he is self sufficient working as a carpenter. The others are all doing fine too, some owning their own launches for fishing, When we go visit our ancestral place, people fall at our feet. No I am not boasting but they still remember the good that was done.
    Many a times the food I have given has been sold off to someone else. good clothes handed over, seen in dustbins and so on.
    What I mean to say is help others. Just look at what others need and then help. Many a times your good may not be appreciated but do good anyways.

    • I am happy that your mother treated the child so well. But I do not agree with the logic of if not employed, someone else will. If the entire world does something wrong, it does not become right, in my opinion. You could have still given her good things — clothes, food without making her work in your home. I am not judging your mother; they were from a different generation but I am just giving a reasoning here.

      Yes, many times the good we do may not be reciprocated as you pointed out. I prefer helping out with education and ensure that I know that the money is only used for education. I think even if we have very little, we can still help a poor child in some way. But making them work for you at that tender age is completely unacceptable to me.

      • I think I should have clarified earlier. The child lived ad we did. Meaning thar she helped in little ways like we three did like setting the table, folding clothes etc. It was mother who did the rest.

        • And then that seems fine. She clearly was a lucky child to be treated on par with all of you. That was my exact point. Can we treat a child just like we do our own?

  6. A powerful post Rachna

  7. child labour is bad I know.. but then people are so poor.. and some take advantage of that … its a tricky situation .. catch 22 .. how do you help them then.. I am not sure if it is right or wrong.. but this time when i went to india, me and mom have taken the daughter of our field man to the city.

    She has been admitted to a school and she helps mom at home.. not sure if this comes under child labour..

    it helps mom as she is alone and refuses to come to uk. and also it has in some way put my mind to rest too..

    Child labour is a bane in our nation, a lot needs doing and yes it needs to be criminalised and people who hire them need to be punished BUT before that a lot needs doing like proper schemes made where by these kids are at least provided free education – food – clothes so they dont become a hassell.

    The problem is there are a lot of charities that do the good work BUT then that too has become a business now.. if you look at the big charities all their directors etc are RICH.. and I dont think they do any other job.. so its them lot who are finding it easier .. and these lot need to be thrown out so the money people give is put to good and better use..

    Another big factor is family planning PEOPLE need to be taught that if they cant look after the kids then they should stop having them.. it should be a crime i would say .. bringing a child in this world and not having the means to cater for their needs and well being..

    A excellent post and loved reading it ..


    • Bikram, your mother is financing her education. That is wonderful. As far as employing a child below 16 years of age, I am completely wary of it. I don’t want to judge the life situations of others. All I can say is that I have helped fund the education of a few as well especially of maids who work in my house but haven’t employed a child. Yes, poverty is the biggest issue that leads to exploitation. I don’t know how that can be addressed quickly. Till that time, when children go out to work, they are extremely vulnerable to all kinds of cruelty and atrocities. And I would love to protect all children from that situation. Hence child labor must be banned. It can go hand in hand with compulsory, free education for all children. I wonder if any government can make this a reality for our children?

  8. Saru Singhal on June 13, 2014 at 6:56 pm said:

    The line where you have written that slowly and methodically we are killing childhood, fills heart with sadness. Earlier I was under the impression that it doesn’t happen much but every day I hear/read such stories and I feel angry. How can people be so ruthless!

    • Saru, I have seen so many people employing children but the ill treatment is what makes me lose it. What is sad is that it is mostly North Indians who employ the youngest of kids they bring from some far-off villages and then make them work like mules. They are not human beings though they look human :(.

  9. Thank you for such a powerful post, Rachna!! I sure hope we can all work to make a change!!

  10. Sad is not a word that can describe the state of affairs in our country 🙁 but somewhere I agree with Suresh. Poverty drives parents to send their children away, place blind faith in whatever glimmer of hope that comes their way. This is such a vicious circle. Our society does nothing to change things around them.. if each does their bit than the world would be a much better place to live in.

    Btw is it just me or is the violence more prevalent up north? I do see girls working here but abuse I haven’t seem as much.

    • You have said it perfectly, Seeta! I believe in that each one doing our bit too. Can we not chip in to help a child’s education that will keep them off the workforce? When we spend thousands over one meal, can’t we give something to the needy? Yes, our society has no conscience or will to help those needier than us. Yes, this is prevalent much more in the North. In Bangalore too, I have seen North Indian families who bring children from villages and then make them slog :(.

  11. Rachna, you have brought out a very important issue.As Suresh says, poverty is certainly the most important issue that needs to be sorted before child labor can be addressed effectively. When I moved in into my apartment , there was a neighbor who had a teenage girl from Bihar and one day I heard some shouting and my maid reported that she had seen the girl crying and apparently they had hit her for using the bathroom. I was on the verge of calling the child rights NGO when they sent her away. I could never bring myself to be social with that family after that. About the breaking off contact part – surprisingly I find that not everyone views it the same way, and even though I mentioned it to couple of people, none of them were truly shocked.

    • True Asha! I agree poverty is a curse. And also I have encountered that attitude very often. Most people are either not affected or just stay away from voicing their opinion to stay nice in that person’s eyes. No wonder our society is in the state it is in. Wife beaters, child abusers, corrupt people, rapists, murderers — all thrive and grow with social sanction.

  12. Very thoughtful and need of the hour to come together and combat against this social menace!

  13. A though provoking post. May all children enjoy the joys of childhood.

  14. Sad to find child employment and torture when the kids ought to be studying & playing…. Touching, Rachna.

  15. Read the post and Suresh’s comments. I quite agree with him. Of course I condemn child labour but the situation is complicated considering the poverty around. But yes, charity begins at home. Powerful post Rachna.

    • Thank you, Alka. I also agree with Suresh’s comments. Poverty is a cause for so many evils. Yet, I fail to understand why we have to employ a child. Can we not afford to at least give them so money to assist in their education? Can we wash off our hands from the situation by saying that they are poor so it is alright if their parents are making them work in my home? What is wrong is wrong and as educated people we must not encourage child labor in any form or for any reason.

  16. I agree with every word, Rachna. I have seen many families having young girls at home to act as nanny etc. They may claim that they treat them well, but by making a child work when s/he should be in school, you are mistreating him/her. Even we were advised to get a 15-16 years old from Kolkata to help while I was carrying and when my daughter was young, but both me and my husband feel very strongly about this and we refused, hiring help locally as and when needed.

    • Exactly, the point I am making, Priya! Thank you for summing it so well. I am so proud of you for doing the right thing and not getting tempted to employ a minor child. Wish more people would do that.

  17. It is indeed a sad plight when we come to think about it. Of course the problem being that we need to keep driving the message home. And some of the steps you’ve mentioned, they’re perfect for that. The initial maid who had visited us when initially took up the current apartment had been referred through word of mouth by someone else. She looked way too young so we asked her for her id. She refused to furnish one and we refused to take her. Desperation can make people living below the poverty line resort to ..well desperate measures. But at least we can be sensible and force them “not to work”. Good post highlighting the issue Rachna

    • Amen to that, Sid! Absolutely what I was trying to say. By justifying what we do because they are poor, we are only making things worse. Thanks for reading, Sid!

  18. janu on June 15, 2014 at 7:27 pm said:

    All these social malpractices and atrocities are committed by the educated lot. It is so sad that we trample upon the weak without so much as batting an eyelid. A powerful post Rachna.

  19. Very well written.

    It especially infuriates me to see people eating at restaurants, with a little girl or boy attendant standing behind them, holding their luggage or baby and looking hungrily and wistfully at their food. People don’t even have that much decency….

    We never ever employ child labour. I don’t even give to child beggars, on principle, because the parents keep producing one after the other to increase the family income. I’ve even written a post on why people who can’t provide for children shouldn’t even have them.

    Do stop by my latest posts too 🙂 would be nice to have your views on them!

  20. If we are choosing to keep quiet about it,we are as responsible as the person next door exploiting their hired-helps.

    Alas, in our neighbourhood where demand outnumbers supply, its we who are slaves to our helps’ mood swings and do our best to keep them happy. And why not? They deserve it as much as us.

    • Exactly, Purba! But the problem is that this ignoring and keeping quiet is very common in our society. In our neighbourhood as well, most of the maids reign supreme yet there are houses that employ girls from back home or underage babysitters. They growl at you if you so much as suggest anything humane to them. Sick folks.

  21. It is a pity that even after 65vyears we are unable to provide basics to our children..resulting into their taking up labourous jobs.
    NGOs which are fooling around with national security should have been actually involved in supporting under previlaged children

    • Exactly, Chowlaji! It is such a pity that our children are forced to work to support their families, many times their earnings do not even reach their parents.

  22. The trouble with most of us is we don’t believe in treating others as we would like ourselves to be treated. That’s why, while we are very considerate (sometimes over-considerate) towards our own kids, we ill-treat kids coming from poor families.

    I agree completely with the 3 points of action suggested by you. However, while the first one can be implemented, the 2nd and 3rd points have practical issues. Most people bitch behind the offenders’ backs, but are very friendly with them, especially if the offender is a powerful and/or well-connected person. I know of some persons who wanted to complain anonymously about child labour in their neighbourhood, but were vetoed by their spouses, again because the offenders were powerful people.

    • You are right on all the counts. I can understand if someone is keeping quiet against a powerful person but even with friends and acquaintances, people toe the line of being seen as neutral. That completely frustrates me. Our society leaves so much to be desired in terms of our own behavior.

  23. We are a selfish lot of people.fact is that none of us ever check the age of the house maids we employ.It is terrible in Gurgaon which employs so many young girls from WB..Its pathetic

    • I think this problem is the worst up North. Here in the South I haven’t really seen people doing it. Yes you are right, we are very selfish!

Do not leave without commenting. I love a good conversation :).

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