The police rescued 20 teenagers from Assam, all believed to be below 18 years of age, at Varapuzha on Thursday. The minors were rescued from a private godown here where they were employed to carry heavy loads.
Police said the minors had come from Assam along with other workers from their village. The minors, who did not carry proof of age, were living in a cramped, unhygienic labour camp located close to the godown where they worked, said the police. The police on Friday presented the minors before the Child Welfare Committee, which will now look into their welfare.
Increasingly, minors are coming into the district from other states in search of job. While Kerala’s children are believed to be largely free of the burden of child labour, the State has not been able to protect children of other States coming here.
“Majority of the child labour cases here are of children from other States,” said K.K. Shaju, member, district Child Welfare Committee. Most of these minors are in the 14 to 18 age group and are driven out of their homes due to extreme poverty. “Most of these migrant children do not have identity or age proofs and it becomes very difficult for the law to prove that they are minors and in need of protection,” said Mr. Shaju.
New child labour laws in the country allow children between 14 and 18 years of age to be employed in ‘non-hazardous’ work. This provision is often exploited by employers who argue that their minor employees are made to do only ‘non-hazardous’ labour. So, few cases of employment of minors from other States are reported and even fewer end in convictions.
“If you just go to a railway station and check, you will find that many of the migrant labourers coming in are in the 16 to 18 age group. But they will not have proof of age and these cases are hardly ever reported to the authorities,” said M.P. Antony, convenor of ChildLine, Kochi. Mr. Anotny said many private baking houses, factories, and plywood industries in the district continued to employ minors despite regulations. “The laws and the system of checking need to be improved to protect all these children,” he said.