Subscribe in a reader
Subscribe by Email

Monday, February 23, 2009

Stolen Childhood

Pass through the narrow streets of Mirzapur (Uttar Pradesh) and you are bound to stumble upon trenches with dark and dingy quarters no bigger than a king sized bed. Around 10 children sit on a low bench, bent upon a piece of cloth, their hands mechanically sewing the embroidery prints. Without food, water or wages they are beaten, harassed to work day and night, to complete the work assigned by their thekedaars (managers), in conditions even adults would find intolerable.

This is the story of the unfortunate children of India, with largest number of child labor. They sweat in the heat of stone quarries, work in the fields, pick rags in city streets, hide as domestic servants, or even as prostitutes. The silver workers suffer frequent burns on their hands and arms, the leather workers exposed to toxic chemicals long banned in developed countries, and the gemstone polishers are subject to both cuts and toxic contamination. All of these workers, given their cramped and unsanitary work places, suffer a high risk of contracting tuberculosis and other diseases of poverty. These children lead a miserable and difficult life, often beaten at smallest pretence and working in ridiculously hazardous conditions to support their desperately poor families and to feed themselves; resulting in sometime permanent injuries at an age when your kids have just finished Pre School. They reach adulthood, deformed or irrevocably sick, turning into exhausted old men and women who’d most probably die by the age of fifty.

Ever wondered, the maid who works back home in India, she earns just enough to be able to provide three meals for her children, all of who lack basic education. For them the only exposure is work and that’s what they do, help their parents earn. These are the situations of millions of children across India having no exposure and in the name of earning money or following traditions are forced to work. They are vulnerable, working for mere hundred rupees a month and a day off; work better than adults, put in longer hours and don’t demand breaks.

Hawk eyed sweetshop owners, tea vendors, truck drivers, carpet weavers, tea plantation agents, servant placement agencies or agents of various industries that wouldn’t mind cheap labor, bond them for a lifetime even generation that follows them. It means kidnapping, buying (yes a child is cheaper than cattle), bonded labor or even trafficking kids in the name of providing job and food to their extremely poor families; promises however are never fulfilled.

Government says a lot, but in spite of being banned the fact remains. The basic problem lies in the structure, the series of loops which makes it impossible to track roots down. NGOs do their job, but the real power lies with us, in not supporting products that can be a result of child labor. It's a fact of a global economy, and will continue to be, as long as Westerners (read Americans and Europeans) demand cheap goods--and incomes in emerging economies remain low.

Every time you buy an imported handmade carpet, an embroidered pair of jeans, a beaded purse, a decorated box, silver goods or a soccer ball there's a good chance you're acquiring something fashioned by a child. Such goods are available in places like GapKids, Macy's, ABC Carpet & Home, Ikea, Lowe's and Home Depot. Every weave of that silk saree that adorns your body perhaps has a child’s sweat to it. Enlighten your conscience!

No comments:

Recent Comments