The fight against child labour

A tragedy followed by a triumph

The government of Tamil Nadu has a vision of a state without existence of child labour. Several districts have been cited as candidates to be declared free from child labour. However, there are reasons for questioning whether any district is ready for that and how such astatement can be proved right. Back in 2011, a shocking reality of child trafficking in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala was revealed. Thousands of children from Tamil Nadu had crossed the state border to be exploited as bonded labour in unorganized sectors in Kerala. One of them was an 11-year old girl from the Irular tribal community.  She never got the chance to return home, as she was tortured to death. Her life could not be saved, but the exposure of the tragedy led to a massive intervention, where 5000 children in the same situation could be rescued and reunited with their families.

The girl used to live with her parents and three siblings in temporary houses, as they moved around to find employment opportunities. Their place of origin was Karveppillangkurichi village in Cuddalore district, but where they lived often depended on the seasons. The parents constantly had to struggle to make a living and eventually ended up with the difficult decision to send their two daughters to Kerala for work. They were both taken to Aluva, Ernakulam district in Kerala, but were separated and placed in different homes. The child trafficker, who was the brother of the girl’s mother, obtained Rs. 15 000 in advance to hand over to his sister and her husband. The 11-year old girl came to a middle class couple’s home, both educated advocates. She was commanded to undertake domestic chores like cleaning, swabbing, gardening and give bath to dogs. The couple were cruel and treated the girl as if they owned her. The aggressive ruling soon turned in to brutal torture. They beat her and burned her body with cigarettes. She was forced to live in the dog house and was not properly fed for several days prior to her death.
On February 22, after one month of work and torture, the girl was rushed to hospital after she had lost consciousness. The couple claimed that she was sick, but the doctors were shocked by her injuries and contacted the police. Two days after she arrived in the hospital, the girl passed away. At the time being, her parents had found employment at a construction site in Chennai and were contacted by a relative to hear about the death of their daughter.
Evidence was reached by the horrific news and assembled three teams to work on the case. One team rushed to Kerala and the place of incident. Another team went to the native place of the girl. The third group stayed in the office to prepare complaints and coordinate the work. The parents of the deceased girl were soon arrested by the Kerala police and accused for child trafficking.  The police did not even believe that they were the real parents. Evidence gave them legal help and the parents were freed from all charges.

Evidence’s team in Kerala met the state police and pressured them to take immediate action to arrest the couple and the child trafficker. The officials responded quickly and operated a raid against places where child labour was suspected to take place in the surroundings of Aluva. Evidence’s office was the centre point connecting the Tamil Nadu and the Kerala government in this joint action to rescue children from bonded labour.

Thanks to the intervention 5000 children could be released from bonded labour in the district of Ernakulam alone. The district and the city of Aluva are considered hot spots for child trafficking in the state. Most children came from Tamil Nadu and were sent home to be reunited with their families. The sister of the deceased girl was sent back to her family and is now readmitted in school. The state officials assured that they would release compensation to the family. Nonetheless, Evidence’s team have struggled hard to make them fulfil this assurance, but still the parents have not received any money.The perpetrators are prosecuted but were bailed out of prison and the case is pending in court.

The raid was followed up by publicprotests in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The death of the girl provoked rage and sorrow within hercommunity as well as outside. The case brought a lot of attention and awareness among public and officials about the extensive problem of child labour in the two states. The attention also scared people who used minors as bonded work force and consequently more children were sent back to their homes.
The rescue of thousands of children from their lives in bonded labour was a huge step forward in the fight against child labour, but still there is a long way ahead until all childrencan enjoy their rights to explore their capacities through education and playing. Not a single child should suffer the way the 11- year old girl did.