Children from Bengal rescued as ‘bonded labourers’ return to Chennai to resume same work after turning 18 

NGO says West Bengal should take the initiative and provide support to the children and their families who were rescued as bonded labourers

February 05, 2024 02:54 am | Updated 10:11 am IST - North 24 Parganas (WB):

Uphill struggle: Employers exploit vulnerable young adolescents, paying them absolutely no wages.  File photo for representational purpose.

Uphill struggle: Employers exploit vulnerable young adolescents, paying them absolutely no wages. File photo for representational purpose. | Photo Credit: K.K. Mustafah

A boy at Amragachi village in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas will turn 17 on March 23, 2024. The teenager, however, is eagerly waiting for his next birthday in the year 2025, when he will turn 18 years old. 

Rescued as a ‘bonded labourer’ from Chennai in February 2023, the boy often has a conversation with his father about his future. His father, a farmer with less than a bigha land, consoles him. “You may go to work when you turn adult,” the father tells the Class X student outside their small hutment that requires an urgent repair. 

The boy was rescued, with 21 other children, most of them from North 24 Parganas district. The release certificate of the teenager mentions Section 12 of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition Act) 1978 and the address of rescue is mentioned as from NSC Bose Road, Parry’s, Chennai. The Act empowers district administrations to eradicate this practice within their jurisdictions and release certificate has a stamp of a Sub-Divisional Magistrate.

A few metres away from his residence is the house of Rahid Dhabak and Abir Mondal, who have gone to Chennai after turning 18. “They were a little older than me,” the boy said. The teenager said there was no fixed salary at the gold ornament manufacturing unit in Chennai and the work was from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. “Had I not been caught, I would have learnt the job in a few more months. The salary for a skilled worker is ₹10,000,” he said.

For the boys, the rescue also came with a compensation of ₹30,000 but that has not made much of a difference in their lives. 

Of the 22 children rescued from jewellery making units in Chennai as ‘bonded labourers’, about 15 of them have returned to Chennai to work in the same profession and in most cases with the same employers who had engaged them earlier.

In the adjoining village of Asudih, there is another teenager who was rescued with the boy. His father, who has sold a portion of his land to construct a house, is upset that his son did not get an additional ₹50,000 which the employers should have given to rescued children. The families complain that in certain cases the employers deposited money but later threatened the poor families to return the money.

In the villages of Amragachi and Asudi that fall under the Srikrishnapur area of the district, amidst the row of single storey houses, there are some elaborately made residences with ornate windows and doors. 

No wages

The villagers point out that these houses belong to the agents and owners who run the jewellery manufacturing units in Chennai. These intermediaries and employers are known to the parents and sometimes are also distant relatives to these young boys. These agents and employers assure the families to train young men and in turn exploit vulnerable young adolescents from impoverished backgrounds, paying them absolutely no wages.

“Tamil Nadu is a destination State for labour and across the State, including Chennai, there are industries where child labour is exploited in some form or the other. In this case, the bonded laborers were rescued by the destination State and sent back to the source State. If they are returning to work in similar circumstances, this is unfortunate,” said R. Karuppusamy, State convener, Campaign Against Child Labour, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

Mr. Karuppusamy, who is associated with READ, an NGO partner of Integrated Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT), said that as a source State West Bengal should take the initiative and provide some support to the children and their families who were rescued as bonded labourers. Launched in 2019, ILFAT is India’s first pan-national survivor forum to strengthen and promote survivor voices in spaces of human trafficking. 

Sanjiv Singh, who runs an NGO Asha in North 24 Parganas, pointed out that the Labour Commissionerate of the Barrackpore Subdivision should take prompt action as far as the young adults returning to the same place from where they were rescued.

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