The first time he worked at a Wazirpur steel factory, it took him 10 minutes just to wash the soot off. After working there for more than three months, the 15-year-old boy, rescued from the factory on Monday, doesn’t even try anymore. “After the raids, they gave us soap to clean up. I did not take a bath… it was cold,” said the boy, showing the blackened outer ridges of his ear.
The boy, among 20 children rescued from five steel factories in Wazirpur Industrial area by the district task force, is now housed at a shelter home run by Prayas in Jahangirpuri.
With most of them unable to remember their parents’ phone numbers, authorities are having a hard time getting in touch with their families.
Housed inside a room, the 20 sat on their beds, arguing occasionally. “You have to polish the utensils with white powder before packing them,” said a 17-year-old boy. “Don’t you sort the utensils first? I was in the welding section and I know your job better than you do,” a 16-year-old snapped back.
The two eventually place a Rs 1 lakh bet before shaking hands. “Now we just have to get out of this place,” said the 16-year-old.
The children, from remote villages in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, left home after being promised jobs in Delhi by local contractors. Almost everyone thought they would work as manual labourers. Instead, they found themselves packed inside small rooms, being paid well below the minimum wage.
Each child would spend the day polishing an average of 200 steel utensils a day. “I thought I would work as a helper, like other boys from my village. Instead, I would wake up at 7 am and work till late in the night. My hands were swollen by the end of it,” said a 15-year-old boy from Moradabad.
They were paid between Rs 100-300 per day. “I could buy biryani for lunch, so I was happy,” said a 15-year-old.
With police yet to take action against the five factory owners and record the children’s statements, the shelter home is their refuge for the foreseeable future. Officials said their parents will have to produce age certificates to take back their wards — a process that could take three months.
“My father told me not to go… that I was a minor and police would pick me up. We were supposed to be paid our salaries but the raid took place. I would have left for my village today,” said a 17-year-old.