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Dhwani Desai,TNN | May 12, 2014, 12.43 PM IST
Educated Bangaloreans hire kids as domestic help
Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, is home to a number of techies who are well-educated and said to be in tune with the times.
Yet, a techie couple was recently found to have tortured their underage domestic help. The girl was reportedly bought from Uttar Pradesh and was working for the couple for three months. And what prompted her employers to ill treat her? They caught her eating ice cream.
The techie couple's 11-year-old maid claimed she was made to babysit the couple's toddler son, wash clothes and cook food — and all this reportedly kept her busy from 5.30 am to midnight. The Child Labour Act of 1986 has set the minimum age of employment at 14, but many employers abuse this and pass off children as young as 10 as 14 year olds. Many cases go unreported and of those that do, several never see their day in court.
Advocate Maitreyi Krishna says that there is a penal provision to ensure that child labour is not practised via the Child Labour Act and the Juvenile Justice Act, but the punishment varies from case to case. "It's not necessary that just a fine is imposed. The offence becomes far more serious if there are elements of trafficking involved. The Child Labour Welfare has a fund that is set up to help children come out of poverty. But the only way to deter people from employing children is to enforce these laws strictly and not let culprits get off easily. This will send out the right message," she says.
Child rights activist Vasudev Sharma says that the things are better now, but this is still in practice. "Things have changed in the last decade or so. The general perception is that employers are actually helping out the young boys and girls as they are given food and shelter. But the child never leaves the house and lives on leftovers. If there is a child in the family, the maid has to look after him/her as well, and is deprived of a normal childhood. This is why, in my opinion, every child domestic help is a bonded labourer," says Vasudev, a former chairperson of the child welfare committee, Bangalore.
"This trend has to do with individual mindsets. Such people probably look at saving money by using cheap labour. The first thing is money — how you can make it and how you can save it. People are constantly trying to outwit the financially and educationally poor," says clinical psychologist Anuradha Arun.
Homemaker Shruti Jain was a witness to this practice and played an active role in rescuing a child who was forced into labour. "The incident took place around eight years ago. Our neighbour at the time had employed a seven- to eight-year-old-boy to work in their house. They would lock him up the whole day at home, forcing him to cook and clean for the family, and cook for himself. The boy didn't have anything to eat most of the time and after hearing his cries, we used to send him some food via a rope. When the owners were at home, we could hear him scream and cry and knew that something was not right.
I told my other neighbours about this, but nobody wanted to get involved. Finally, my father-in-law approached an NGO, who called the cops. The boy was rescued and sent to a children's home as it was found that his parents were given a big sum, because of which he was forced to work as domestic help," she says. Vasudev feels that companies and resident associations can do their bit to prevent child labour. "Just like companies have policies on road safety, they must have them on child labour. If an employee has hired a child labourer, he/she must be suspended till their name is cleared. Resident Welfare Associations should also have a child rights protection policy, by which they must ensure that child labour is not allowed in their premises. Lastly, teachers must educate their students and tell them to alert someone if a child is employed in their homes," he says.