Swathi Shivanand and Chitra V. Ramani

A problem is that the age of a child worker cannot be precisely ascertained

Swathi Shivanand

and Chitra V. Ramani

Bangalore: "I get paid Rs. 50 a day," 12-year-old Vishwas, a cleaner at a hotel on Millers Road here says.

"I pay him Rs. 90 to 100 a day," says Rajeev, Vishwas's employer.

"I have been working from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for two months," says Vishwas.

"He has just come today to help his mother," says Rajeev (names of children and their employers have been changed).

Such conflicting statements are commonplace The Hindu team discovered when it visited a few eateries and restaurants in Bangalore as part of a reality check on the incidence of child labour. Come October 10, the State will implement a Union Government notification that puts the hospitality and domestic help sectors in the category of "hazardous occupations." Violators will attract a fine of Rs. 20,000 and/or a jail term of two to five years.

To pay off debt

Despite the looming deadline, the use of the labour of children below 14 years is rampant. Vishwas's daily wage goes into paying the debt of Rs. 60,000 taken for his elder sister's wedding and provides for the daily expenses of his family.

"I want to go to school. Who would not want to? But then who will help my family," he asks.

Vasudev Sharma of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), set up by the Department of Women and Child Welfare, says, "It is a myth that children's wages help in increasing family income. In most places, children get paid less than Rs. 20 a day, which is sufficient only for the child's needs."

Take Kumar, a cleaner at a hotel in Malleswaram who looks around 13. As we speak, an older co-worker comes up, hits him hard on his back and orders him back to work. Kumar is hurt, but shrugs it off. "It is just for fun," he says.

Most children working in the hotel industry are physically abused by their co-workers, Mr. Sharma says. He disputes the claim by hotel owners that children working for them are better off than those working in other industries. "They live in wretched holes. Their fingers look bleached. They suffer from skin diseases and their legs hurt from standing," he says.

B. Shreepathy Rao, member of the Hotel Workers' Union, says, "They are not even paid the minimum wages set for children in the 14 to 18 age group." If children are denied work, they are bound to take to crime. "Already, there are gangs that recruit children to commit small-time crimes." The Government must set up schools and devise better schemes for school dropouts, he says.

According to Mr. Sharma, all rescued children have been rehabilitated and their education sponsored through government schemes or private donations.

One of the problems in this sector is that the age of the child worker cannot be precisely ascertained, an excuse that hotel owners often advance. Will this continue to provide an escape route after the October 10th deadline?

People can dial 1908 to report cases of child labour.