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
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
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
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
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
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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