June 1, 2007, Ibrahimpur, New Delhi: In a shocking incident in the afternoon on 31 May 2007, an armed mob of over 100 employers, contractors and others attacked Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s transit rehabilitation centre for rescued child labourers at the outskirt of New Delhi. Majority of the children at the rehabilitation centre were rescued from gold jewellery workshops from Karol Bagh area a fortnight back.
The irate mob of gold jewellery employers and their goons armed with iron rods, sticks and bricks came in buses and forcibly entered the Mukti Ashram. The mob yielded their arms liberally on the staff caring for the rescued children. In the ensuing chaos and panic, the children were very scared and traumatised, as the employers and their men tried to abduct the children forcibly. With great difficulty and presence of mind, the staff protected the children. Frantic calls were made to the nearby police station (Alipur), which came an hour later to disburse the mob. Unfortunately, neither the police registered a FIR (First Information Report) nor arrested any of the instigators.
Kailash Satyarthi, founder of BBA and international child rights activist, denounced this trespass and fears for the safety and well being of the rescued child labourers and the staff of BBA. He lamented, “This is happening in the capital - Delhi. I am outraged at the audacity and lawlessness of the situation. Even during the rescue operation for the release of these children, violent mobs of employers, contractor and traffickers gheroed the children and us. The special reserve police had to be called for protection on 19 May. Again at the police station, these people verbally abused us and threatened with dire consequences. However, not a single one of the employers or miscreants has been arrested till date despite our FIR and repeated complaints.”
Mukti Ashram (BBA Transit Rehabilitation Centre) is sheltering 92 bonded child labourers rescued from gold jewellery workshops of some of the top jewellery makers in New Delhi by BBA, District Administration, Labour Department and Police on 19 May 2007. Children were found living and working in appalling conditions in the Raigarpura and Beidanpura areas in Karol Bagh. They worked in small rooms in 5 storey buildings. Each room had 8-10 people and more than half of the workers are children. They ate and slept in the same room in which they used dangerous chemicals like lead for making gold ornaments and gold polishing. Children were then handed over to BBA until the administrative formalities, medical examination and other formalities. It is notable that the action was taken under the Bonded Labour law, which is a cognisable offence and even empowers the Sub-Divisional Magistrate conduct a summary trial on the spot and sentence up to 3 years of imprisonment. They were given a release certificate under Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act, 1976 by the District Magistrate entitling them to rehabilitation. More than 90 per cent of the children were trafficked from West Bengal and the rest were from Bihar, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Orissa.
In the press interviews post their release, numerous children gave testimonials against their employers abuse and bondage. Adding to non-payment of wages, appalling working conditions, health problems were physical and sexual abuse of the children. To add to the jewellery-makers ire the rescued child labourers had also named some of the largest and leading jewellery brands in New Delhi as using the jewellery made by these children.
The children in their testimonials in front of the Magistrate feared that they might be re-trafficked from their homes into the same situations again due to the pressure and influence from the employers and traffickers. The children sincerely expressed their desire for a better and safe future. “The children have voiced their fears and desires. This must not be ignored. The government has to protect their rights to childhood and freedom”, expressed Satyarthi. He alleged, “It is shocking to know that employers’ organisations joined by politicians are pressurising the Delhi administration and Chief Minister to hand over these bonded child labourers to them. It seems that their ploy has worked. In this situation, we fear that the rehabilitation centre would be again attacked”.