Your cheap shoes may have been made by children

Bengaluru: In the small factories, off narrow by-lanes and congested alleyways, a booming demand for bags and shoes is being fulfilled by exploiting minors from Bihar. The past month has seen 16 trafficked minors - aged between 10 and 17 - being rescued, which points to a well-entrenched network catering to illegal factories in the city.

A few months ago, a labour contractor went to a village in Sitamarhi district of Bihar promising a monthly pay of Rs. 7,000. For 17-year-old Aditya (name changed), the offer appeared to be the way out of crushing poverty for his family. “The contractor was from the district and the factory in Bengaluru was also being run by a Bihari. We thought it was a good offer,” he said.

The contractor took five children by bus to Patna, from where they took a train to Bengaluru. In Bengaluru, they were split sent to five different factories. Aditya was confined to his factory: a seedy shed in Govindapura where he was forced to work between 12 hours to 15 hours a day assembling footwear. The factory had 16 other employees, who were forced to work and stay amidst hazardous chemicals and machines. Far from Rs. 7,000 a month, all they got was Rs. 100 a week, which was spent on meagre groceries.

They did not consider running away. “How could we? We assumed that the owner would give us the money owed to us at some point in the future. He warned us against running away, saying the contractors would catch us and thrash us until we could no longer work,” Aditya said.

The 10 minors who were rescued on October 27 from the factory were brought to the city over a span of a year by at least four different contractors.

On October 3, six children were rescued from a bag factory in K.P. Agrahara. They had been brought here by various agents over a span of two years.

In both cases, police filed cases against the owners, but are yet to catch the contractors who are ‘absconding’.

The modus operandi is the same, say Association for Promoting Social Action and BOSCO, two NGOs that aided the rescues. Agents in Bihar target minors and unemployed youth with promises of ‘good jobs and steady pay’. Often, parents are given a token advance. But once in Bengaluru, the children are confined to the factories, threatened, beaten and paid a pittance.

The contractors ensure a near continuous supply of cheap labour. One of the rescued children, who worked in a shoe factory for more than a year, has seen a steady supply of minors and labourers who are shifted between factories. Those who manage to run away or leave are replaced.

A 14-year-old, who was rescued from a factory, said, “When I go back to my village (in Sitamarhi district, Bihar), I will make sure everyone knows the kind of torture we went through here. We will chase contractors out of the village. Though promised good jobs and good pay, Bengaluru has turned out to be a nightmare.”

Sashmeeta Mulmi, Director of Government Engagement, International Justice Mission, says, “Karnataka and Bihar must sign an MoU to tackle the trafficking network. While bonded labour charges are bailable, trafficking charges are non-bailable and conviction will ensure fear among the traffickers.”

Sonia Narang, Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), Crime Investigation Department, says, “There definitely is a network. Frequent raids and rescue of children will act as a deterrent to those seeking to employ bonded labourers.”

Previous cases

October 27: 10 boys, including nine minors, rescued from shoe soles manufacturing unit at Govindapura.

October 3: 6 children rescued from a decorative paper factory and a bag factory in K.P. Agrahara.

June 2016: 11 children rescued from a bag factory in City Market.

July 2015: 27 minor children, including a girl, rescued from plastic recycling unit in Kumalagodu.

April 2015: HC rejects bail application of duo accused of employing 9 minors from Bihar, observes that only their arrest and interrogation can determine the ‘nature of trafficking’.

July 2011: Shivajinagar police rescue 13 boys from a bag stitching unit.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2021 8:44:35 PM |

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