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Raid & Rescue Operations

Real Hero

I salute Waib. He is the real hero. His courage and conviction is unprecedented. Born in the remote village of Pipradi, in one of the most backward states of India, Bihar, with no road and electricity, he is a victim of trafficking. He was trafficked along with several other children to Delhi by a labour recruiter on the pretext that he would be given a good education and good life. Later, he would be trained in some trade to send money back home. But, he was brought to a 12x18 feet room crowded with several other children engaged in needlework and embroidery. Life for these children was confined to this small room, their living room, sleeping room and work place. One day while crying for his mother, Waib was beaten up mercilessly by the employer. Not able to take any further punishments, Waib ran away and told the truth to the world. Waib is only 8 years old. Based on his story and information, we coordinated with different agencies to conduct a secret raid and rescue operation, which lead to the liberation of 29 children who were working in that zari export unit on 6th June 2005. In addition to this a few weeks back, 125 children were rescued through our on-going campaign against zari industry.

Raid and Rescue: A Necessary Tool

We are talking about half a million children from Delhi and a similar number from Mumbai, in exploitative labour, bondage and slavery. In both these areas, as well as in Bihar (major trafficking source), BBA is closely collaborating with the administration and coordinating with partner NGOs for the rescue, release and rehabilitation of child labourers."

Over the past quarter century, Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s (BBA) time and tested strategy of liberating children (through raid and rescue operations) from slavery and exploitative labour has proven to be one of the most efficient and effective tools for elimination of child labour. Considered by many NGOs as short-term and an ‘adrenalin rush’, this strategy is now gradually being adopted by the civil society and police for the liberation of those in bondage and exploitative labour.

Our organisation has been lobbying and asking for the last 20 years that it is not possible to withdraw children slaving under virtual and actual lock and key, without raid and rescue operations. Conventional methods of lodging a complaint, going to the court, waiting for years for justice to be delivered, robs a child of precious childhood and freedom. The recent Mumbai raid in which 46 NGOs, police and administration collaborated to release child labourers, demonstrates the effectiveness and swift action of the raid and rescue operation. However in this case, the NGOs had only furnished the information to police. Thereafter, the police conducted a massive crackdown of units suspected of employing under aged children.

Over long years, when we were talking and advocating about the solution for guaranteeing children their rights, child labour elimination had been sidetracked by most NGOs. It has taken us more than two decades to convince that child labour elimination is the key to Education For All, and without raid and rescue operations child labour cannot be eliminated. And, thus it is a pleasant and welcome surprise that many NGOs are now looking at rescuing children through raid and rescue as well as linking child labour issues with education.

Multipliers of the Raid and Rescue

Raid and rescue operations responds to the children’s and parents immediate call for justice. Besides securing immediate freedom for children, women and men in servitude, there is a surge in positive energy within the organisation and the community with a raid and rescue operation, through vibrant activism and trust building. Large-scale mass awareness and media mobilisation also occurs due to a raid and rescue operation. But, most importantly, for the children released, this is a spontaneous empowerment and restoration of trust in life and society that has for long been shattered. It is also a restoration of trust in life and freedom of the family, to have their children released. Additionally, when the children return to their respective villages and homes, it has a multiplier effect in the community, with social mobilisation, conscious building, dissemination of information and empowerment.

Raid and rescue highlights a serious social problem and solidifies public opinion on the issue. These operations also lead to the sensitisation, activation and mobilisation of the enforcement and judicial machinery, and it brings these institutions in close collaboration with the NGOs. It results in the orientation and education of the state enforcement machinery on the issues of child rights, child labour and bonded labour.

However Not An Immediate Measure

Contrary to belief, as I have been saying, raid and rescue operations are not the ultimate measure. Repatriation and rehabilitation of those rescued is imperative for any raid and rescue operation to be successful. NGOs can take responsibility of transit and educational rehabilitation, but not the economic rehabilitation of those rescued. The government is responsible for the actual and complete rehabilitation and reintegration of the released.

For prevention of child trafficking and rehabilitation follow-up our, office and activists in Bihar have been following up rigorously in Sitamarhi, Darbhanga, Saharsa districts, through the Mukti Caravan Campaign. Mukti Caravan Campaign (Campaign on Wheels) is a very effective grassroots trafficking prevention campaign to sensitise the vulnerable masses about the ills of trafficking and enhanced awareness generation through the use of vernacular media and traditional folk theatre and songs. Mukti Caravan has former child labourers rescued from carpet industry, brick kilns, etc, who speak the local dialect and follow the local folksongs. These children and youth are well trained by professional theatre artists, to conduct road shows and small plays on road. Moving from village to village, singing and performing, the Mukti Caravan help spreads the anti-trafficking message, generates mass awareness and also, informs the villagers about the remedial measures in case someone succumbs to the lure of traffickers and labour recruiters.

For a Successful Raid and Rescue Operation

In view of the recent raids over the last few weeks across the country, some precautions are warranted.

  • NGOs should not just give the tip-off to the police but be more involved in actually process of conducting a raid and rescue operation. By being actively involved in the raid, rescue and rehabilitation process the NGOs and their activists are more aware of the nitty-gritty’s of the operation and better suited for follow-up activities.
  • District Magistrate or the Sub-Divisional Magistrate should be involved for the effective enforcement of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 as it is a more stringent and effective law in such cases. Under this law, bondage is a cognisable offence and the offender can be arrested. In this police cannot give bail to the culprit and it will be given by the Magistrate. Sub-Divisional Magistrate, acting as the Executive Official, is empowered by this law to act as the judicial officer. The burden of proof shifts to the employer. The employer has to prove under this Act that s/he has not given any money, debt or forced the children to work under any compulsion.

    More importantly, under the Bonded Labour Act, children and adults are entitled for a rehabilitation package under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Rehabilitation of Released Bonded Labourers. Children, who have been released under this law, are to be compulsorily enrolled in schools. Further, parents who are given rehabilitation package of Rs. 20,000 worth of earning assets, have to ascertain that the children are retained in the school. In our experience this rehabilitation package, helps supplement the income of parents (as poverty is the most cited reason for trafficking of children and child labour), as they either buy arable land or livestock or set up small shops for their economic sustainability. Besides this, if these are landless agricultural labourers, the Below Poverty Line people of those belonging to SC/ST sections, several other schemes are also included for their rehabilitation.
  • Involvement of the Labour Department in raid and rescue operations also is a must. However, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act is not a very strong deterrent and has several lacunae including the differentiation between hazardous and non-hazardous industries and work. It allows children to work in so-called non-hazardous occupations, but there is no way to ascertain the working conditions, the maximum hours of work allowed, the payment of minimum wages, etc, to the children. Certain occupations and processes, namely 57 are listed as hazardous and child labour is prohibited in them up to 14 years of age, but, family child labour is accepted, so in most cases the employers masquerading as relatives evade conviction. Another impediment in the Child Labour Law is since birth registration is not prevalent in rural areas; most children are unaware of their ages. In most cases, with no medical proof to establish the correct age of children by police, the benchmark of 14 years becomes ambiguous. If the working children are in the age group of 12-15 years and they usually pass off as over 14 years because of the employer’s constant indoctrination that leads them to parrot their age as above 14.

    The Child Labour Act is effective, only when, action and rehabilitation package of Rs. 25,000 is given to the released children for their education, in view of the December 1996 judgement. In the recent Mumbai raid, the Chief Labour Commissioner was involved, but is not empowered by law to book the released children under the Child Labour Law. While on the other hand, since the Sub-Divisional Magistrate had not been involved the children were neither booked under the Bonded Labour Act.

    Further, normally we have seen that the agents or labour recruiters are caught by police but not the principle employer. The principle employers, often well connected, rich and influential, evade any kind of scrutiny by the administration.
  • Role of Police, Juvenile Justice Board, Child Welfare Board and the Social Welfare Board also gives teeth to the raid and rescue operations. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act covers many aspects of exploitation but till date there has been no record any rigorous judgement delivered by the Juvenile Court. With very long and tedious proceedings, children who are the victims of exploitation are also the key witness of state initiated legislations. However, once the children are repatriated back to their homes, follow-up becomes cumbersome and if there is no sustained involvement of police and other divisions, then the raid and rescue operations becomes a lost opportunity. The role particularly of the police is crucial as the police can issue non-bail able warrants against the employers, if, Dalit (SC/ST) children have been subjected to any atrocities under the SC/ST Acts.
  • Individual testimonial of each and every child released from a raid and rescue operation has the potential of strengthening the case against the culprits. It also highlights the modus operandi of the labour recruiters involved, gives details of other child labour employment destinations, the supply routes of trafficking among other critical information.

Bonded Labour is a very sensitive issue, and State Governments (including Delhi, Maharashtra, etc.) have denied the existence of bonded labourers. So the actions are not normally taken under the Bonded Labour Abolition Act. It has been also noticed that when the police forcibly removes children from labour, due to lack of rehabilitation and follow-up, these or other children return to the same exploitative conditions within no time. Further, since these industrial units are unorganised and illegally operated (most times), with no records, terms of employment, etc, it becomes very difficult to prove anything in courts. Although, under the Child Labour Law children can be released form hazardous industries and processes, there is a very small fine of nearly $1 (Rs.50) for the employers. Police often acts under pressure from media, NGOs and politicians, but the raids do not come under its jurisdiction unless action is taken under the Juvenile Justice Act. Like in the recent raid in Mumbai, nearly 40 children escaped in the first few days after the raid, and the police are clueless about their whereabouts.

Recently, when I spoke with the Chief Labour Commissioner of Maharashtra Mr. Sawant, he mentioned that about 200 children who said that they were over 14 years of age were let off, as these children do not come under the purview of Child Labour Law. He expressed his helplessness over this, due to the lack of age proofs, records, and also due to the inability to establish the relationship between the employee and the employer. Even, the cases have not been referred under the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, as it has not been established that the children or their parents had taken any debt (from the labour recruiter or employer). Furthermore, action has not been taken under the Juvenile Justice Act.

We are talking about half a million children from Delhi and a similar number from Mumbai, in exploitative labour, bondage and slavery. In both these areas, as well as in Bihar (major trafficking source), BBA is closely collaborating with the administration and coordinating with partner NGOs for the rescue, release and rehabilitation of child labourers. Apropos to the Mumbai raid, BBA Mumbai Head Srinivas Kulkarni is following up with Maharashtra Government, Bihar government and NGOs to give release certificates to the children released.

Raid and rescue operation thus, is not just an act of dare-devilry but is a meticulous process that has to be planned well in advance and all unforeseen circumstances accounted for. It is an instrument worthy in the armour of any child rights activist that needs to be used with utmost sensitivity and wisdom.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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