IN THE past five years, a total of 1,269 children employed as child labourers were rescued in various raids conducted across the state. Over 38 per cent of these children were found during raids in Surat district.
A total of 2,997 raids were conducted under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act (1986) across the state between 2013 and 2018, states a written reply tabled earlier this year by the Gujarat government. This was in response to an unstarred question posed by Sureshkumar Patel, a Congress MLA from Mansa constituency. The maximum number of raids were carried out in Vadodara (146), followed by Ahmedabad (137) and Surat (129) during the five-year period between October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2018.
Raids in Surat saw 490 children being rescued, while Ahmedabad stood second with 157 children being rescued. Rajkot was third on the list with 117 children being rescued, of which 80 were rescued in a single year between October and September, 2018. “In every district, there is a cell which conducts these raids. The roadside ‘dabhas’ or eateries are usually found to employ a high number of child labourers,” Vipul Mitra, Additional Chief Secretary, Labour and Employment Department of the Gujarat government told The Indian Express.
“Some of these children are employed in textile units and we have also found them to be employed as domestic help,” Mitra added. Entities employing child labourers continue to flourish in Gujarat, despite Chief Minister Vijay Rupani launching a massive drive in 2015 to wipe out child labour from the state. Sukhdev Patel of Gantar — an NGO working for child rights in Gujarat — points out that despite the state government running “Sahiyari Kooch”, an initiative to wipe out the menace of employing children under 14 years of age, child labour continues to be “prevalent” in Gujarat.
“Efficiency of the raids conducted by the government against such entities is shown in that only one child gets rescued in two raids that happen in Gujarat. This also shows the casual way in which government officials conduct these raids, which are usually carried out to meet the annual targets given to them,” says Patel. The data tabled by the government reflects Patel’s views, with only 1,269 children rescued in the 2,997 raids conducted across the state in the five-year period.
“Moreover, government officials while speaking at public forums claim that the employment of child labourers is decreasing in Gujarat. However, we feel that despite the Sahiyari Kooch initiative, which involves a month-long awareness campaign and raids, child labour continues to be rampant,” Patel said, adding that children are employed in embroidery units, fabrication units, family businesses, beedi-making units, incense stick-making units, among others.
“Children in the age group of 15 to 18 years, too, cannot be employed in hazardous units like those manufacturing firecrackers or explosive, mines and minerals and units which are covered under the Factories Act (1948). However, you will find these rules being flouted in the state,” Patel remarked.
The data tabled by the government in the state Legislature also shows that in Gandhinagar district, which houses the state capital, 13 child labourers were rescued in raids during the same period. The lowest incidences of child labour reported were in the tribal districts of Dangs (1 child released), Narmada (1) and Mahisagar (2). Even districts which house well-known pilgrim spots like Devbhoomi Dwarka (2) and Gir Somnath (2) reported a low presence of child labour.