KOLKATA, 13 JUNE: Rampada Burman of Gokulpur village in the Patashpur gram panchayat area in East Midnapore district, was barely 14 years old and studying in Class VIII when he was sent to work as an embroiderer in a zari mill in Gujarat last year, proof enough that the state government is still unable to do away with child labour.
His destitute parents had no way other than to ask their son to earn for the family from a tender age. Rampada’s father himself had left school after finishing seventh standard.
His eldest son, Rampada’s elder brother, successfully completed Higher Secondary, but still has to work as a daily wage labourer.
Lured by the thought of his son earning a handsome monthly income of Rs 4,000 per month and meeting the economic needs of the family, Rampada’s father thought the vocation would fit his son well.
Recently local members of the Village Child Protection Committee and Children’s Group formed by Kajla Jana Kalyan Samiti, an NGO working for child rights, went to Rampada’s family and explained the ill-effects of child labour and that it was illegal to send children out for work. They also spoke about the chances of accidents.
Mr Vivekanda Sahoo, project coordinator at the NGO Child Rights and You, which works alongside the Kajla Jana Kalyan Samiti, said: "Families send their children to work to meet financial needs. People of the villages are not aware of their rights and do not know about the ill-effects of child labour."
The NGOs have been giving financial support to families so that they can start small businesses and no longer have to send their children for work. The families, which are being funded, are checked regularly to make sure they don’t send their wards to work, said Mr Sahoo.
Rampada was eventually brought back to Bengal, but that increases the responsibility of the families and the NGO, said a coordinator at Kajla Jana Kalyan Samiti, Mr Kamal Das. "We have rescued 5,000 children till now and it is not easy to work with them once they are back. They are being imparted vocational training and some of them are also being sent to schools."
Rampada at present studies in Class IX, and has happily come back to the normal life he deserves. But the shadow of the past refuses to leave him as his strenuous work at the zari factory has left him with tuberculosis. Though he is willing to study, he is not allowed to attend school till fully recovered.
A teary-eyed Rampada, remembering his hard days as a factory worker said: "I will never go there again," he said. "Working for 12 hours a day was painful. I couldn’t sleep and eat and no one was there to console me."
"Many children are engaged as labourers and the practice is on the rise mainly due to the absence of government upper primary/high schools as compared to primary schools. Parents willing to send their wards to schools, can’t do so as they can’t bear the transport cost. As a result, children stop going to schools and after some time are compelled to earn for the family," said Mr Atin Nath Das, regional director, CRY.
Mr Nath added that there are economic reasons as well. Options for livelihood in different districts are shrinking
rapidly. "Children of these families fall into the trap of trafficking easily," he says. This is evident from the high presence of children on railway platforms, streets, hotels, garages, workshops and small industries and as domestic help.