IJM in its bid to involve children in its bonded labour advocacy drive organised a quiz competition

Bonded labour is a heavy topic for anyone, let alone children. How can school students living in comfort and freedom be made aware of the incredible reality of lives ruled by the dictates of inhuman task masters? How these unfortunate people are forced to work for a pittance, told when to eat and when to sleep? As part of its bonded labour advocacy drive (till August 22) and an ongoing initiative to take the issue to school children, International Justice Mission (IJM) organised a multi-layered quiz competition for children where questions about the issue were sandwiched between posers about Mount Vesuvius and Angry Anna PC game. With good-natured raillery, Nakul Patel of Quiz Works (Bangalore) kept the quiz lively. Amidst the fun, children from 12 schools learnt that the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act, 1976, abolishes the heartless practice and this Act states that whoever compels any person to serve as a bonded labourer can be imprisoned for a term that may extend to three years and slapped with a fine that may extend to Rs. 2,000. Another tidbit of information: every released bonded labourer is entitled to a rehabilitation amount of Rs. 20,000.

From these statistics, the children could see for themselves that scant importance is being given to the issue — the punishment and the redressal do not quite match the gravity of the crime.

Andy Griffiths, field office director, IJM, says awareness about bonded labour has not reached a significant scale. Due to Government awareness initiatives, polio and AIDS are being addressed, he says and adds that bonded labour is an invisible evil that however has to be urgently tackled. Working with Government agencies for the last ten years, IJM has helped free 5,000 bonded labourers across Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In 2011, 645 bonded labourers found freedom in Vellore, Kanchipuram, Thiruvanamalai and Thirupattur districts.

“We discover entire families working for 20 years, 10 years and even for three generations,” says Griffiths. Having taken debts, they are sold into slavery. Being paid a fraction of what they deserve as wages, they will never be in a position to pay off the debts and the cycle of exploitation continues unabated.

IJM provides a two-year rehabilitation programme for rescued bonded labourers. “When you have worked 20 hours a day, six days a week, for years and have been told when to eat and when to sleep, you lose the ability to make even simple decisions. First of all, we help them take simple responsibilities,” says Griffiths.

Ongoing rescue and rehabilitation efforts have made a difference, but Griffiths thinks a lot more needs to be done. In this context, he calls for greater empowerment for the Vigilance Committee, created under the Bonded Labour Act to check the evil, a toll-free helpline, simplification of application forms to access benefits for rescued bonded labourers and an aggressive awareness drive by the Government.