The recent case in which 28 children, including eight from Nepal, were rescued by the district task force committee has raised questions over the total number of child labourers working in more than 16,000 industrial units in the city.
What adds to the worry is the fact that only 13 first information reports (FIRs) have been registered against owners of factories employing children despite more than 35 raids conducted at various units in the past three years. In previous raids, children as young as seven years of age were found working in factories.
Most of these children are brought to the city by contractors after paying money to their underprivileged parents. They are made to work in a tough environment in factories and eateries and have to make do without basic amenities.
Although there are no exact estimates of the number of child labourers in the city, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) claim that the number could be anywhere close to 15,000.
Members of these NGOs, which work with the task force panel comprising representatives of different departments of the district administration, say they have demanded a number of times a crackdown on the human trafficking racket in various states that lands these children in the city.
Bachpan Bachao Andolan, one such NGO, stated that more than 370 children have been rescued from different industrial units in the past three years, pointing towards the gravity of the situation.
POLICE, INDUSTRIES DEPT PASS THE BUCK
Despite being a part of the district task force committee, the police say they cannot register an FIR against those employing child labourers without being asked to do so by the industries department.
Assistant commissioner of police (east) Gurjit Singh said that the industries department has to make a recommendation to the police to register an FIR, without which no legal action can be taken against the erring factory owners.
The industries department, however, says the onus lies on the police to act in such cases.
Assistant director of factories Makhan Singh said that every department in the district task force has a specific mandate.
“While the role of the education department is to ensure the child gets education after being rescued from a factory, the work of the police department is to register an FIR under relevant sections,” he said.
Makhan Singh said the industries department’s responsibility is to slap a notice of Rs 20,000 on the erring factory owner and deposit the money in the child welfare fund.
“The police don’t need any recommendation from the industries department to register an FIR. They can do so on their own,” he said.
Dinesh Kumar, a member of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, said that child labour has been made a cognizable offence and the police cannot shrug off its duty of booking the erring employers.