On Children’s Day this year, when police launched a crackdown on child labour, a youngster was seeking out a police officer at the control room.
At 13 years of age, Rohit (named changed) polishes shoes for a living, just like his parents and the police officer had asked him to polish her shoes.
In what is a classic case of the force working at cross purposes, police are indirectly encouraging child labour in its own backyard while launching operations to end the practice elsewhere.
A resident of the Naya Basera slums in the state capital, Rohit is a frequent visitor to the police control room where he finds security personnel ready to buy his services.
HT stumbled on Rohit’s story when he approached the reporter mistaking her to be the police official who had sought his services.
Child rights activists and government officials agreed that even if Rohit was engaged in his family business voluntarily, police were "ethically wrong" to seek his services.
Childline director Archana Sahay said that instead of asking Rohit to polish their boots, the police personnel must connect these children with various welfare schemes of the government.
Terming Rohit as "certainly a child worker", deputy commissioner (labour) and welfare commissioner SS Dixit said, "it does not behove anyone let alone a police officer to engage street children or children from poor families in work against wages".
The only positive in Rohit’s life is that unlike lakhs of other child workers, he attends evening classes conducted at the slum he lives.
But by day, he is back to polishing shoes — hovering around the police control room and other places in Bhopal.
"I come to this place (police control) almost every day. Every day, I walk from home area to New Market, Roshanpura square and police control room in search of customers. Here, I get customers easily as many police personnel ask me to polish their shoes," Rohit said.
When contacted, inspector general of police (IGP), Bhopal range, Yogesh Choudhary said that "someone might have called the boy individually for boot polishing".
He also promised to look into the case and identify the police official who had sought a child worker to polish her boots.
Though the number of child workers, the state government had disclosed in the assembly this year that there are only 108 child labourers, identified between 2011 and 2013. However, the 2011 census report suggested that the number could be over seven lakh.