INDIA: Many rescued child laborers in India soon back at another dismal job

New Delhi -- A group of child laborers recently rescued from a dank factory
where they threaded sequins onto shirts to be sold by the San Francisco

retail giant Gap Inc. finally went home last week.

But in a country long desensitized to minors toiling in iron ore

mines, fireworks plants and textile factories, the majority of

children freed in raids wind up at another job within months of

rescue, according to several children's activists.

A 2006 report by the Child Welfare Committee found that 12 of 22

children from a village in the impoverished eastern state of Bihar

were re-trafficked, mostly to different states, within a year

being rescued from a Delhi hand-embroidery sweatshop.

"They go back to the parents, but then what?" asked Bharti

chairwoman of the Child Welfare Committee, a quasi-governmental

"Unless there is close supervision, the children will be going
back to


Rights groups estimate there are as many as 60 million children

working in violation of the Child Labor Act, which prohibits

under 14 from working in 72 jobs, ranging from cutting diamonds

shelling cashews to blowing glass. New occupations are still being

added, including domestic work and jobs in restaurants and hotels.

There are myriad reasons children get sucked back into the labor

cycle, activists say. Poor parents are ignorant of the law and

by promises that their child will master a trade while sending

ever-higher paychecks; illiterate child laborers lack the

to start school; government rehabilitation and monitoring programs

only now being implemented; and natural disasters.

In fact, the parents of the children rescued in the Gap case told

their attorney that severe floods destroyed their crops in their

Bengal villages, leaving them with no choice but to send their

children to work in the capital.

Many Indians believe children and their families would be worse

without such jobs. Seeing a child serve tea in restaurants, tea

stalls, hotels and corporate offices "should be shocking,"

Shireen Miller of Save the Children India. "But there's a kind

cultural tolerance toward it; there isn't outrage."

Miller's point was brought home early this month when two

boys were seen on videotape plowing in Bihar state on fields owned

the minister for rural development.

The high-profile rescue at the sweatshop making Gap clothes in

was followed by rescues of 103 boys from two other textile

in New Delhi.

The sweeps have jolted the Indian government and Gap.

Government officials have since drawn up a child-labor eradication

plan, promising regular audits in such labor-intensive export

industries as textiles, carpets and jewelry. They have also pledged

large funding increase from $170 million to $1 billion for

rehabilitation centers that offer informal education and

training to rescued minors.

On its Web site, the Ministry of Labor acknowledges the challenge,

calling child labor a "socioeconomic problem inextricably linked

poverty and illiteracy," that "requires concerted efforts
from all

sectors of the society to make a dent."

A Gap spokesman says a New Delhi subcontractor sent the work to an

illegal, makeshift facility without Gap's knowledge. Gap ordered

vendor, who they declined to name, to fire the subcontractor who

employed the children in violation of the company's policies. Gap

also placed the vendor on probation, reduced orders to his factory

50 percent, and is organizing an industry forum called Global

Against Child Labor early next year, according to Bill Chandler,

vice president of corporate communications.

"Gap Inc. believes very strongly that under no circumstance
work on any of our garments be done by children," said
Chandler. "We

require all of our vendors to comply with our strict code of

that includes an absolute ban on child labor."

Gap says it will donate $200,000 to create community centers in

that will closely monitor the 200 garment factories that

their products to ensure that no child is hired.

Some of the boys who hand-stitched sequins onto Gap shirts were as

young as 10 and worked up to 16 hours a day, rights activists say.

Many had been packed into tiny rooms in a series of factories,

from 9 a.m. until midnight with just a 30-minute lunch break, and

beaten with rods if they missed a stitch, activists say.

All were reunited with their parents last week after spending six

weeks in the custody of the nonprofit organization Save the

Movement, while a New Delhi court reviewed their case.

The court had initially refused to allow the parents custody of

children after learning that they had personally delivered them to

factory administrator, said attorney Ashok Agarwal. He said he

to represent the parents only after they promised to protect their

children from future traffickers.

On a recent afternoon at the Save the Childhood Movement shelter,

boys became reacquainted with their childhoods, climbing trees,

playing cricket and watching television. They also practiced yoga,

meditation, and attended counseling sessions conducted by former


"The children have to learn how to be free," said shelter

Manish Sharma.

When the court finally ordered the boys home, it gave each family

to be used to generate income by purchasing items such as livestock,

motorized rickshaw or a cigarette vending cart. S.K. Das, the

principal secretary of the West Bengal Labor Department, said

officials work with families to devise an income plan, which must

approved before payment.

But children's activists say there is little follow-up after most


The 2006 Child Welfare Committee report found that "families

all the money in a few days. Children have obviously not benefited

all." Activists said families typically use the money to for

items as ceiling fans, alcohol, weddings and unpaid debts.

Bhuwan Ribhu, a lawyer for Save the Childhood Movement, says his

will visit every few months the boys who left the sweatshop

manufacturing Gap clothes. But without an effective government

rehabilitation system in place, he says it is impossible to

them from traffickers who are often residents of the same village.

Individual states are responsible for enforcing child labor laws,

creating a fragmented and disorganized system in which blame for

inaction is traded back and forth between state and federal

governments, rights advocates say.

This summer, the Delhi High Court ordered local government to stop

traffickers from bringing out-of-state children to the capital

the northern state of Jharkhand argued that New Delhi has done

to stop it. The Delhi Labor Department is woefully understaffed,

only 50 inspectors for a workforce of 8 million, said a department

official who requested anonymity because he is not permitted to

on the record.

"We are supposed to implement 26 labor laws with merely nine

he said. "And the inspectors are not qualified. Their
understanding of

the legal issues is poor."

Most of the boys swept up in the raid on the sweatshop producing

clothes were under age 14 and earned less than $15 per month in a

nation whose annual per capita income is $3,600. But when they

at the shelter, they recited phrases that their bosses had drilled

into them - that they were 14 (the legal working age) and earned

decent money, said attorney Ribhu.

Mohammed Nadim, 15, who was recently rescued after working two

in a garment sweatshop in New Delhi, smiled uncomfortably when

why he had left home. "I went with the man (trafficker) to

money," he said.

Reached by phone at his village in Bihar state, his father,
Tohid, contradicted his son, saying he found his own way to


"I know he is too young to work," he said. "I know he's
a child. But

if he wants to work, he can."
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