Employing children below the 14 years in dhabas and restaurants and as domestic helps is officially illegal and the word has spread that doing so can attract fine, imprisonment or both. But accommodating these rescued children in the city before they are sent back home is bound to create problems.
The cramped conditions in government run homes mean that at one time not many children can be accommodated. In fact, the Delhi social welfare department has informed the labour department that it cannot accommodate more than 400 rescued children at a time.
It has stated that 250 children can be accommodated in the After Care Home for Boys (Narela), and 50 each at Children’s Home for Boys at Alipur and Narela and Children’s Home for Girls at Nirmal Chhaya Complex in the Tihar Jail Complex. Delhi social welfare department joint director Rashmi Singh says the department offers accommodation for 3,000 children.
"Apart from the 11 state run homes, the department also provides aid to homes run by NGOs. The labour department can also use the multi-purpose community centres in the city as well," says Singh. Rescued child labourers are supposed to be rehabilitated and eventually repatriated to their home districts. In the interim, they are lodged in state-run homes.
The requirement for such accommodation is expected to go up drastically with the inclusion of children working in eateries, roadside shacks, restaurants and homes as domestic helpers.
"The 11 homes run by Delhi government have a sanctioned strength of 1,050. Where will they keep rescued children?," asks Raj Mangal Prasad of Association for Development, an NGO that works with street children.
Accommodation has been identified as a major problem area even by the labour department in its report to the government.
"The regularity of raids is affected simply because we do not where to put children after rescuing them. In November 2005, we rescued 424 children from zari factories. We had to temporarily accommodate them in a Hudco Complex at Bhikaji Cama Place as no space was available at the government-run homes. But when the NGO taking care of the children expressed their inability to do so, we had to squeeze the children into various government homes in small batches," says Piyush Sharma, Delhi joint labour commissioner.
The labour department has now sought help from not just the social welfare department for arranging accommodation, but also the public works department, education department and the department for personnel and training.
"There are vacant school buildings and community centres which can be used. NGOs will take care of the children, while the security will be looked after by the police and private security agencies," says Sharma.
The real state of preparedness, however, can only be gauged when the department starts the crackdown.