Child Protection Team rescues children employed for rearing sheep

Miserable was the condition of Mubeena (13) who has lost her childhood for no fault of hers. A hut outside the village, sheep to rear, an old woman as her guardian, and a torn pair of dress, was her world. This girl may have found a ray of hope when, on May 5 last year, she was rescued by the Child Protection Team (CPT)of Koppal when Mubeena was rearing sheep in Anegundi village of Gangavati taluk.

The story is no less than a ghastly act of a greedy parents (needy as well) who sold her for Rs. 30,000 three years ago. The girl has not seen or heard of her parents for the past two years as she sweats her way rearing 125 sheep through the day. Schooling or any worldly comfort was a distant dream.

The case of Mubeena is not an isolated one. More tragic is the story of Aslam (12) who was rescued with Abdul (9) and Haneef (10) from sheep rearing in Hosuti village of Gadag district. They were handed over to the sheep owner to take care of 300 sheep for two years against a payment of Rs. 60,000. They were deprived of childhood rights and the care that childhood demands. They were not allowed to contact their parents till they were rescued by the CPT on September 26, 2012. Aslam has been diagnosed with blood cancer and is undergoing treatment at Kidwai Hospital in Bangalore.

No different is the story of Manappa (10), Amaresh (11), Hanumanth (10), and Mounesh (12) from Bogapura village. These children were found living in inhuman conditions. Along with other adult members they had to look after more than 1,000 sheep. The pathetic conditions that these children lived in throw light on the inhumane facet of child labour in sheep rearing, which is a major occupation in the remote areas and hardly catches the attention of the outside world.

The owners obtain the services of the children for a price for a specific period.

Often, the children are left to fend for themselves. Forget about care, their owners not even provide medication if a child falls ill. Manappa was suffering from severe fever, yet he was not provided any treatment by his owner. He was found lying on the ground because of weakness by the villagers, who, in turn, informed the authorities.

The poor parents hand over their children for money to survive or to repay debts. Manappa, a fatherless child, had to go as child labour to repay Rs. 20,000 taken for his sister’s marriage. Another easy target are orphaned children like Amaresh. Poverty and hunger compelled him to discontinue schooling and opt for sheep rearing. However, remuneration need not be in the form of money. Taking advantage of their poverty, their owners employ the children paying remuneration in kind. Mounesh was hired by the sheep owner on the condition that he would offer six sheep a year for his services.

Koppal Deputy Commissioner Thulasi Maddineni told The Hindu that this practice was rampant in the backward regions. A survey in Koppal district in September 2011 to identify out-of-schoolchildren had revealed that there were 4,734 children working. Of these, 1,147 children were in the sheep rearing service. Many children were rescued and brought back to bridge schools and children’s homes.

Terming sheep rearing as yet another hazardous sector, Ms. Maddineni said that the children were exposed to the elements. They are often underfed and prone to malnourishment. They spend day and night with the sheep in all unhygienic conditions. Child labour in this sector needs greater attention. A recommendation on declaring sheep rearing a hazardous sector has been made to the government, she said.

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