They were made to work hard, often for up to 17 hours a day

The Bangalore police on Saturday rescued 10 girls, believed to be minors, employed by Prabhat Circus at Kengeri here.

According to the police, the girls, aged between 12 and 18, were trafficked from Assam. While some have been working at the circus for over eight years, others joined the troupe just two months ago.

The rescue was a joint operation comprising the police, the Anti-Human Trafficking Cell under the Criminal Investigation Department, and the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, a non-governmental organisation.

The four-hour operation ended with a case being booked against the circus under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 and the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. Cases have also been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. “While we have booked cases against the employer for employing three children below 14 years, other cases have been booked for trafficking and confining them illegally,” a rescue team member said.

A 2011 Supreme Court order bans employment of children in circuses.

In shock

When The Hindu visited the girls at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, where they were taken for medical examination, most of them refused to talk. They appeared to be in shock and frazzled by the day’s events.

Abhinatha (name changed), a chirpy 15-year-old, said she was brought to the city two months ago by an agent who promised her a job as a dancer. “But I came here and realised that we had to work in the circus. I do not like this job as I sometimes get hurt during rehearsals when I have to jump from a height.”

A tough life

When asked why she chose not to return home, she said: “I have six siblings and I get Rs. 4,000 a month, which I send to my parents.”

She added that they were not allowed to go out of the circus tent or talk to anybody other than the circus crew.

The girls used to perform three shows every day, said Vani Kantli, State programme coordinator of Bachpan Bachao Andolan. “The girls performed various acrobatics and stunts on stage. They had a rigorous schedule, working close to 17 hours a day.” Some girls were also injured, she said.

Ms. Vani added that while some children were “bought” from their parents for Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 20,000, others had not been paid at all.

Some of the children who spoke to The Hindu said they wished to go back to the circus. In fact 12-year-old Ila Bora (name changed) wanted to go back to play with Jumbo, the circus elephant, 16-year-old Ishanika said she wanted to go back and perform her favourite ring dance. Another said she didn’t want to leave her older sister, who also works at the circus. She pleaded with this reporter to ask the authorities to allow her to go back to her sister.

‘Short, not minors’

When contacted, a spokesperson of the circus said: “They are not minors, they are short in stature. We do not hire them directly, but through agents. Our only mistake is that we didn’t ask for the medical certificate.”

When asked why the wages were so low, he said: “We are the highest paying circus. We pay the contractors who may be not paying them the entire amount.”

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