She was hit on the head each time till she bled, for years. Her neck, even today, bears marks of being brutally scratched with nails. Employed as a domestic help in Saidabad at the tender age of six, 14-year-old Anita's only childhood memories have been those of work and assault.
“Every time amma was angry at anybody or anything she would hit me,” says a frightened Anita, softly. But she quickly adds, “Then she feels bad and takes me to the doctor too.” For the 14-year-old, this is normal.
Anita is just one of the innumerable children suffering physical and even sexual abuse after being employed as child labour. Yet, the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act - which envisages stringent punishment to the employer and maximum compensation to the abused child - is barely being put to use in the State.
Those who employ children are being left almost scot-free due to poor implementation of the act; failure of the entire system and lack of awareness being the prime reasons, child welfare officials say.
“Of hundreds of child labour cases that are registered, hardly a handful of employers are convicted under the JJ Act. Some are made to pay a small fine while some others simply escape,” says Isidore Philip, Chairperson, Child Welfare Committee (CWC).
The main problem
The problem lies with the substitution of the JJ Act with acts like the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.
“While the JJ Act is dealt purely by the judiciary, the Child Labour Act is implemented by the Labour Department. “After children are rescued by the Labour Department, their cases are almost always disposed of by the department itself which merely imposes a small fine,” explains D. Durga Prasad, Magistrate of the Juvenile Justice Board, Ranga Reddy.
“With neither the Labour Department nor the police referring cases to the Juvenile Justice Board, those engaging in child abuse are being left scot-free” he added.
Only grave cases, those that receive media attention or cases where the CWC is involved in the child's rescue from child labour, are being brought to the notice of the JJB, said officials.
“Most children are scared to even admit being abused by their employers. Even in cases when scars and wounds of physical abuse are blatant, employers are left after paying some fine, as it is not brought to the notice of the JJB,” said officials of the Children's home in Saidabad.
Moreover, while the Child Labour Act leaves out all children above the age of 14, the JJ act deals with rights of all those below 18 years. “While no amount can make up for lost childhood, the system is failing even in ensuring stringent punishment for employers and maximum benefit for the abused child,” Mr. Philips says.
(The girl's name changed to protect her identity)