BANGALORE, INDIA – At 11:30 a.m., children are making loud and happy noises as they run around the playground at Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota Mane, a shelter for boys in Bangalore, a city in southern India.
It’s a special day at the shelter: the 10th anniversary of its child helpline. The children and staff celebrate with cake.
Boys 15 and younger live in the shelter and also receive an informal education here. One of these boys is Deepu, who is from Gauribidanur, a town in Karnataka state.
When addressed in Hindi or English, Deepu, who speaks Telugu, just stares. His friend Suleman, another resident of the shelter, is happy to act as a translator.
The boys, neither of whom has a last name, often pause and scratch their heads before responding, as if figuring out how to formulate their experiences into words.
Deepu says the shelter is his first time attending school. Before, he had to work in order to help support his family.
“We are poor, so I used to assist my father in making and selling chips,” Deepu says with a shy smile.
He says he was sent to the shelter while he was working one day.
“Once while selling chips in train, I fell asleep,” he says. “When I woke up, I realized it was Bangalore station. A lady ticket checker caught me without ticket and questioned me and informed some people, and that is how I came here.”
Many children from impoverished backgrounds become child laborers in India. The government and nongovernmental organizations are working together to shelter and educate vulnerable children. As yesterday marked World Day Against Child Labor, children’s rights advocates say more can be done. But they cite various challenges. Still, nongovernmental organizations and the government say they are doing what they can to eradicate child labor.
India has the highest number of child laborers in the world, according to the government’s current five-year plan. The number of child laborers in India increased from 11.28 million in 1991 to 12.59 million in 2001.
Like Deepu, other children had also never been to school or had dropped out. Kavita, a staff member at the shelter, says that all the kids there came from impoverished backgrounds. They are either orphans, or their parents couldn’t support them.
As a result, many children were also child laborers, says the Rev. George Kollashany, the founder of Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota. As he talks, many boys pass by his office, greeting him with wide smiles.
“Child labor is a complex problem, and its root cause is poverty,” he says. “The law is weak, as it states that the child can work in nonhazardous area.”
He says that even if a case is filed, the process is not easy.
“If a case is booked against the employers, the procedure is lengthy,” he says, disappointed.
There are no separate courts for cases regarding children, so they are filed along with all other cases in the court, Kollashany says. The child has to stay in the government shelter during this time, which he says can sometimes be worse than the environments where the children were working.
Some employers insist they are helping the children.
“Sometimes, the employers say that they have done a favor [for] the children by providing them food and shelter, as the poor children had none,” he says.
Sometimes, children also resist leaving these jobs.
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