Human rights violations against child bonded labourers

“Violation on bonded child labor”)

17 years in bonded labor Incident 1: Surlimuthu S/o Periyasuruli (late) is 25 years old. He worked as a bonded laborer for 17 years. Surlimuthu resides in Seepalakottai, Uthamapalyam at Theni District. He has worked as a bonded laborer since he was 8 years old. His father Periyasuruli died 17 years ago, leaving Surlimuthu’s mother Parvathy responsible for the family. A caste Hindu recruiter Sonaikalai, hailing from Meikilarpatti, approached Parvathy, telling her of a job opportunity for her son in his relative’s savory company in Uttar Pradesh. The job would provide a good wage and food thrice daily. Based on these promises, Surlimuthu went to Uttar Pradesh to work in the savory company of Mahendran, near the railway station at Karchaiyan main road. There, Surlimuthu was forced to work for 20 hours daily. His job was to prepare dough and mixture, requiring him to work near a hot stove for long hours. Mahendran provided Surlimuthu with old food at 10am and at 10pm. If Surlimuthu refused to eat, Mahendran tortured him, burning him with an iron rod. Surlimuthu was also forced to work in Mahendran’s house, cleaning toilets and vessels. When Surlimuthu tired due to the toll of his heavy work, Mahendran tortured him by throwing hot oil on Surlimuthu’s body. Surlimuthu suffered burn injuries on his hands, legs, and all over his body. Mahendran also attacked Surlimuthu with wooden logs and an iron scoop, and kicked or slapped him with his slippers. Mahendran often abused Surlimuthu with caste insults. He also threatened Surlimuthu that if he revealed these tortures to his family, he would kill his mother, brother, and sisters. Surlimuthu believed these threats and remained silent about these abuses without informing his mother. Surlimuthu could not bare his owner’s torture, so in August 2008 he took leave, returning to his home and refusing to return to work. Though Surlimuthu worked for 17 years as a bonded laborer, Mahendran gave him only Rs.39,000 in total for his labor. On 1.6.2009, Mahendran and his brother Gajendran came to Surlimuthu’s house and threatened to kill him if he did not return to work. In response to these threats Surlimuthu sent complaints to the Chief Secretary of Tamilnadu, the Deputy Inspector General, Tamilnadu, the District collector of Theni District, the District Superintendent of Police-Theni, the Secretary of the Adi Dravidar Welfare Department, the Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission-Delhi, and the Secretary of the State Human Rights Commission-Chennai. Incident 2: Thavamani resides in Vadugapatti village, near Usilampatti at Madurai district, living with his wife Chitra and son Vairamani (17). He is a tender coconut vendor. Variamani was taken as bonded laborer for one year to work in savory company near Keraloor, in Nesam District, Gujarat state. Thavamani received Rs.2000 as an advance amount. Rohan (32), the owner of the savory company belongs to Usilampatti. After Vairamani had been taken to work at a savory company, his father Thavamani tried to contact him over the phone. But the owner Rohan denied his request, often saying that Vairamani had gone out in relation with his job. During October 2008, the day before the Deepavali festival around 10am, Thavamani had contacted Rohan to force him to give the phone to Vairamani. Rohan replied to him in careless manner that Vairamani was missing since 6am at that day. Knowing that his son was missing, Thavamani went with a relative to Keraloor, in Gujarat. There he enquired to some boys working at the savory company about his son. The boys informed him that Rohan regularly tortured Vairamani. He often abused Vairamani, forcing him to work 18-20 hours daily and forcing him to sleep in the kitchen. Thavamani and his relative stayed for 15 days in the house of Ravikumar (50) S/o Gurunatha thevar. Ravikumar, a relative of Thavamani residing in Balampur at Gujarat, helped them search for Vairamani. Thavamani lodged a complaint at Keraloor police station. Thavamani returned back to his village. On 27.6.2009, Ravikumar contacted Thavamani and informed him that Vairamani was safe at his house. When Thavamani and some of his relatives went to Gujarat, they found that Vairamani had sustained injuries over his entire body. He also had scars from oil burns. He had suffered damage to his mental state and lay unconscious, passing urine and feces in his bed. He was taken to Usilampatti Government Hospital and received treatment for 23 days. On 29.7.2009, Thavamani, father of Vairamani, sent complaints to various higher officials including the National Human Rights Commission- Delhi, the State Human Rights Commission-Chennai, the District Superintendent of Police- Madurai, and the District Collector-Madurai. Missing of four dalit boys in same village Incident 1: Velayuthapuram village is near Pallapatti, Dindugal District. Four dalit boys Nagaraj (12) S/o Ammavasai, Madurai Veeran (12) S/o Perumal, Murugan (14) S/o Ammavasai (late), and Kannan (14) S/o Murugan, went to Andhra Pradesh 2 years ago work in a savory company. The parents of these boys did not even know the address of the place where their children work. Dalit boy Murugan was taken into bonded labor by broker Paraman Thevar, but they could not find out which broker had taken the other three dalit boys. For the past 2 years, the parents of these children suffered greatly without the knowledge of their children’s whereabouts or well being. This incident came into light when EVIDENCE’s fact finding team visited this village. The Deputy Superintendent of Police Mrs. Pushpam called Paraman Thevar and warned him to handover the child within 1 month. This sort of incident still occurs all over Tamilnadu. Many children work as bonded laborers in savory companies, spinning mills, restaurants, construction work, bore wells, homes, and textile companies. We are about to celebrate our 63rd Independence day on August 15, 2009, reminding us of the sacrifices so many made in the struggle for freedom. We in India all know how violent the system of bondage is—just over 60 years ago, all of us lived in bondage. When our India became a republic, articles and laws were enacted to abolish discrimination and bondage. Particularly, article 23 states that slavery is abolished, and that no one could be kept in bonded labor. The Bonded Labor System (Prohibition) Act was enacted in 1976 to abolish slavery. Various action plans and rehabilitation initiatives have been attempted to prohibit bonded labor. Yet still, slavery persists. Children especially are kidnapped, tortured, and forced to work as bonded laborers in incidents reported all over Tamilnadu. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child urges that child labor should be eradicated. We must protect children from kidnapping and bonded labor. The rights to life, protection, development and participation should be well established. Only then we can enjoy real dignity and equality. This treaty was enacted in the year 1989 and was signed by the Indian Government in 1992. Due to caste discrimination, Sumangali schemes, and poverty, many children have been taken from their homes and forced to work as bonded laborers in other states. These children are subjected to many tortures and violations. Some cases have been registered in newspapers. In a few cases, the children were rescued. But have any standard and proper plans been implemented to eradicate child bonded labor? We get both news that children are forced to work as bonded laborers and that the government is working to rescue these children—but in reality, are they taking proper action taken to rescue child bonded labors? If actions have been taken, why has child bonded labor not been abolished? Have any legal actions on bonded labor, awareness programmes, or rehabilitation plans brought any changes? With these questions in mind, our EVIDENCE team conducted a study in the month of July 2009 on violations of bonded child labor. Research procedures and limitations: We conducted this research study in four districts: Madurai, Theni, Dindugal, and Virudhunagar. The questionnaire format is framed with 45 questions, under three sections. Our team interviewed 111 children who have worked in bonded labor. Parents of 87 children had registered the violations and atrocities faced by their children, confirming their testimony by signing the form. The other 24 children themselves reported that violations and atrocities had been forced on them and signed the form. This study focused on children under age 18. Some of persons over age 18 also reported violations they endured as minors, confirming their testimony with signatures. Hence we had included them in our study. Research findings: In four districts, we found 111 children who had worked as bonded laborers. Of the children surveyed, 89 are male and 22 are female. We found that most of the females work under Sumangali schemes. Of 111 respondents, 106 were under 18 years. Only 3 were above 18 years. The ages of 2 bonded laborers were unknown. Of the 111 child bonded laborers surveyed, 96 were dalits, 12 were non-dalit, and caste of 3 children is unknown. The parents of all 111 children work as coolies. Forms of bonded labor jobs: Among the 111 children, 29 work in Tamilnadu, and 82 work in other states. Particularly these children work in states including Orissa, Kerala, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Haryana. These children have worked in savory companies, textile mills, cotton mills, spinning mills, and restaurants. 63 children worked in the chocolate industry. Of the respondents, 83 children received some amount of compensation in advance. 24 children received amounts ranging from Rs.500 to Rs.2000 as an advance. 17 children received Rs.2500 to Rs.5000. Other children received over Rs.6000 in advance. Violations and tortures: Of the 111 respondents, 93 children work for 8 hours daily and 28 children work between 15-22 hours daily. 71 were asked to live at their work place. Others were asked to live in their employer’s house, in the upstairs of their employer’s house, or in separate rooms in their owner’s house. Children are forced to work from 4am to 8pm. 70 children reported that they are restricted from speaking with others, and they are not allowed to leave their workplace. 52 children are forced to work continuously without rest and are not provided with any holiday. We found many violations and tortures common in the workplace. • They are forced to carry water in huge vessels. • They are forced to prepare snacks in huge vessels with hot oil. • They are forced to wash dirty clothes of their employers and their family members and to clean vessels. • Though they are promised food thrice a day, child laborers mostly receive spoiled and food with bad quality. • They are forbidden from bathing. • They are not allowed to contact their parents. • They are forced to clean toilets. • They sustain injuries in the workplace. Physical and psychological tortures: 57 children reported that they were affected both physically and psychologically. Though 111 children were violated, only 57 children openly accepted that violations had been imposed on them. 12 children were subjected to torture by having hot oil poured on them. 15 children were assaulted with wooden logs and iron rods. 21 children were subjected to general tortures. Employers or their family members imposed many violations and tortures on this bonded labor children, including: • Pouring boiling oil upon these children. • Assaulting them with wooden logs, iron scoop, and foot wear. • Abusing them in caste bias. • Abusing family members of children they employed with filthy language. • Pulling their hair and throwing them against walls. • Often slapping or spitting on a child’s face. Effects of atrocities: Of 111 bonded laborers, 55 children experienced psychological stress, 14 experienced sleeplessness, and 9 sustained injuries. We could not find these effects in some children. As these children inform their parents, through the phone or letters about their violations and tortures, we received most of this information from parents. Reasons for bonded labor jobs: 61 children disclosed that they were forced to enter their jobs because due to the unemployment of parents. 99 children reported that the low wages of their parents was a factor in their entering their job. 99 say reported debt as a factor. 45 reported their parents’ compulsion as a factor. Though these reasons points to family situation as the deciding factor in child labor, we found caste, untouchability, compulsion of employers or recruiters to be the main factors in child bonded labor. Conclusion: Under the guidelines of the Child Labor Prohibition Act, the RDO is a special enquiry officer who should regularly monitor whether bonded labor occurs in their jurisdiction, or whether children from their jurisdiction have been taken to other states for bonded labor. Our research revealed that no such monitoring systems were in place in the districts we studied, or even adequate police provisions for rescuing bonded laborers. The government has raised questions to dodge successful implementation of measures against child labor, asking how could we possibly identify child bonded laborers when this practice is occurring? We assert that if the proper and legally mandated monitoring systems were in place, police could take the necessary action against those found responsible for these violations to reduce this practice in the future We cannot deny that slow action is currently taking place by both taking action to rescue child bonded laborers and taking action against the owners who torture this children. Even when complaints are made to rescue a child bonded laborer, most of the accused remain in other sates. This distance over jurisdictional boundaries makes rescuing child laborers especially difficult. This is a major reason justice is not provided for the affected. Complete monitoring must be done to ensure no child is chained to bonded labor. It is essential to rescue child bonded laborers, to provide them with rehabilitation, and to take necessary action against those who have abused them. We can definitely prevent child bonded labors, if our Government takes severe action. Recent international research revealed that globally there are roughly 12.3 million people working in bonded labor. Among them, 9.5 million bonded laborers live in South Asia. 40-50% of these laborers are children. Recommendation • The government should take emergency action when rescuing children from bonded labor. They should rush to the scene as soon as they have enquired to verify accusations of holding bonded laborers. • Detailed research should be conducted throughout Tamilnadu under the head of RDO to find out how many children have been kidnapped as bonded laborers to other states. • Joint action should be taken by the Chief Secretary and DGP to communicate with higher officials of other states to find out the tortures and violations imposed on bonded laborers who have been kidnapped to other states. • Dalit children are most commonly held as bonded labors. Hence according to prohibition of Bonded Labor System Act of 1976 and section 3(1)(6) of the SC/ST Act 1989 cases should be filed and Rs.45,000 should be given as compensation to the affected. Non-dalit child laborers should be provided with Rs.20, 000 as compensation according to prohibition of the Bonded Labor System Act of 1976. (A.Kathir @ Vincent raj) Executive Director