At the age of ten, Mintu had developed some kind of a resistance to minor assaults and beatings. Therefore, his employee, a Mumbai hotelier, began poking him with a stick and burning him with iron rod. All this was being done to ensure that he was up by 6am to report for his 18-hour job that earned him a meager Rs 2,500 a month and a few pieces of dry bread.
Story of Zainub (13), who worked as a domestic help for five years in a house at Bhindi Bazaar, is not very different. She was, however, subjected to mental torture too. As per the complaint, Zainub used to be locked in the house alone for days with limited food every time her employer-couple travelled out of station. Besides this, she used to be threatened, beaten up and tortured on a regular basis.
Mintu and Zainub, finally managed an escape with the help of the police and a local NGO. However, they could come to terms with life only after prolonged counselling sessions.
Going by the statistics with Childline India Foundation, Mumbai, there has been a spurt in the number of complaints received against child labour, from 4,183 in 2009 to 15,636 in 2013.
"These figures reflect an increase in awareness, but it's also true that child labour has been steadily rising in India. Our research reveals that 11% of India's workforce are children 18 or below. Eleven paisa of every GDP rupee is accounted for by a child labourer," said Nishit Kumar, head, Communications and Strategic Initiatives, Childline India Foundation.
Child right activists across the country continue to wait for a more stringent law that eases the rescue and rehabilitation process.
"The current law provides for the labour department to control prosecutions. The entire rescue and prosecution should ideally be shifted to the Juvenile Justice Act. This will empower child welfare committees to directly control rescues and prosecutions/punishments," added Kumar.
Activists believe this is necessary to ensure that fines collected from employers go to children. "Enhancing fines is not the answer. That will only make it more attractive to employers to indulge in corrupt practices. The labour department should have no mandate for rescue and prosecution. Children rescued from child labour should be treated as Children in Need of Care and Protection (CNCP)," added Rakesh Sengar of Bachpan Bachao Andolan.
However, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012 introduced in Rajya Sabha on December 4, 2012 by minister of labour and employment Mallikarjun Kharge, has been in limbo since then. The bill seeks to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, which prohibits engaging children in certain occupations and regulates the conditions under which they can work in other occupations.
"We are hopeful the new government will proactively work towards enactment of this bill," Sengar added. (Names changed to protect identity of individuals).