“Malik (employer) said my age is 14,” replied Zubair, who clearly appears around seven years old, when asked his age.
A little over three feet tall, Zubair is one of the 34 children between the age group of seven and 15 rescued from various zari units operating in north Gonda Chowk, Seelampur, during a raid on Thursday morning.
Scared and helpless, the children do not know what to do. All they do is repeat that they are 14 years old, the legal age of employment under Delhi government rules.
Zubair has been employed for a month now but he does not know anything about his pay.
“I am still learning the work. I am not a karigar (craftsman) yet. I will start getting money from next year.”
Tears brim over his eyes as he talks of his family.
“I am very poor. If I had a choice, I would go home to Amma (mother) and study in my village. My parents have no money. Being the eldest, it is my responsibility to work and send money home.”
“The children say they work from 7 am to 1 am. Most of them have never received any wages,” said A.K. Sharma, Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Seelampur.
The SDM, child right activists and senior officials from the labour department conducted the raid.
All the children have been trafficked from flood-affected districts in Bihar with promises of employment and a better future. But they were found living in cramped rooms and working without wages in neighbouring zari units, which have been sealed as of now.
“The children will be produced before the Child Welfare Committee office at Mayur Vihar and the defaulter employees shall be prosecuted under the provisions of fine up to Rs 20,000 or imprisonment or both,” said K.R. Verma, deputy labour commissioner (east and northeast district).
R.S. Chaurasia, chairperson of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, an NGO working towards child welfare, alleged that due to the failure of government machinery, children are being trafficked and dumped in these manufacturing units.
“While the entire government administration and police are engaged in rescue and relief work, the scandal of child trafficking is largely ignored,” Chaurasia said.
Meanwhile, the Labour Department is planning to initiate steps for repatriation of these children to their home state for comprehensive rehabilitation.
“The government is planning to give them release certificates under the Bonded Labour Act. This entitles them to their rehabilitation package of Rs 20,000, the availing of government schemes like Indira Awas Yojana, housing schemes on a priority basis,” said the SDM.