In mid-July this year, police in Jaipur registered an FIR after the body of a minor boy was found in a house where lac bangles were manufactured. The 14-year-old boy had been working as a child labourer at the facility for the past year.
Police informed the boy’s family in Gaya, Bihar. The boy had spoken to his older brother by phone a few days earlier, and had said he wanted to return home.
“But when we asked him to come back, I could hear his seth (employer) in Jaipur saying that he would not let my brother return unless he paid back the expenses they had incurred on him over three months of the lockdown,” the brother said.
The boy from Gaya was one of four child labourers at Jaipur’s lac bangle units who have died since July this year. All the boys were from Bihar, of ages between 12 and 16.
Social activists and officials from the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) of the Rajasthan Police told The Indian Express that children from states like Bihar were frequently trafficked to Rajasthan and made to work as child labourers.
The AHTU’s regular operations to rescue these children could not take place for several months due to the Covid-19 crisis, official records show. According to the documents, a rescue drive in March had to be stopped after two weeks, and the another drive was not initiated until August.
“My brother ran away from home last year and later called us to say he was in Jaipur. When the lockdown began, we wanted him to try to come back, but his employer refused, saying he would take care of my brother. It is he who is responsible for my brother’s death,” said the older brother, who is a daily wage labourer in Gaya.
Police have charged the owner of the lac bangle unit under sections including 304 (culpable homicide) of the IPC, along with relevant sections of The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.
Inspector Bheem Sen Kaushik, the investigating officer, told The Indian Express that the chargesheet had been filed, and that the owner of the unit was now in jail.
Three days after the death of the Gaya boy, police received information of the death of another minor in the city – a 16-year-old boy from Bihar’s Vaishali district. The FIR in this case says the boy had bloodstains on his head.
Police visited the house where the 16-year-old lived and made lac bangles, and found more children. One of them was in poor health, and had to be admitted to J K Lone Hospital in the city. On August 4, this boy, who was 13, died in hospital, says the chargesheet in the case.
The chargesheet details the inhuman conditions under which the trafficked children have to work.
“He is our maalik (owner). I was brought from Bihar along with another boy a year ago after being told that we would be helped to study. The maalik forces us to make bangles from 8 in the morning to 10 in the night, doesn’t provide us food on time, doesn’t let us out of this basement, and if we don’t work he beats us. The other boy had been ill for several days. Maalik didn’t give him medicine, and forced him to make bangles even in his illness. Today he was bringing tea for the owner when he fell down the stairs and sustained injuries in the head,” says the statement of a 13-year-old child labourer at the unit, which is part of the chargesheet.
Police filed the chargesheet against the owner of the unit, his wife, and the person who owned the house in which the unit was running.
According to AHTU data, in separate drives last year, a total 1,714 children engaged in child labour were rescued across Rajasthan, and action was taken against 348 employers. This year, only 671 children have been rescued so far, and action has been initiated against 220 employers, the data show.
The most recent death has been that of a 12-year-old boy from Bihar’s Madhubani district. Police came to know on October 23 that a child working at a lac bangle-making unit had died, and preparations were on for the cremation.
The FIR says the 12-year-old child labourer had gone back home during the lockdown, but was brought back 15 days ago by the accused.
“When the body was examined, fresh and old wound marks resembling blisters or beating were found on the child’s shoulder, chest and stomach,” says the FIR.
The owner of the unit has been booked on the charge of culpable homicide and under other sections of the IPC and anti-child labour laws. He has been arrested and is currently in jail, police said.
“The death of four trafficked children in the last few months is a matter of great concern. Thousands of children are being brought and made to work in Jaipur’s lac bangle-making units. Irreparable damage happens if the rescue operations suffer. There is a need to fix accountability of the police and other agencies rescuing trafficked children,” Deshraj Singh, Project Officer, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), Rajasthan, said.
The BBA said in a statement that according to estimates by local intelligence, over 5,000 children have been trafficked to Jaipur since the lockdown was lifted, to work in the bangle making factories in north Jaipur areas such as Bhatta Basti, Shastri Nagar, Kotwali, Jalupura, Sanjay Circle, Ramganj, Galta Gate, Amer, and Brahmapuri.
Activists say that bangle-making is a hazardous occupation, and the children are often exposed to harmful chemicals and dangerous tools in hot surroundings, and they breathe in toxic fumes.
According to data from Rajasthan Police, 434 cases under The Juvenile Justice Act were lodged in the state in 2019, and a total 725 boys and 14 girls were rescued. This year, 313 cases have been registered until August 31, and 603 boys and 38 girls have been freed. In 2019, 478 accused were arrested; this year, 241 had been arrested until August 31.
“The death of the four children is definitely a matter of concern. I have written to the concerned police officials to ensure that the rescue operations we conduct are done more stringently on a larger scale with coordination among all the other departments involved. The bigger the scale of operation, the larger the number of children who will be rescued,” Ravi Prakash Meharda, additional director general of police, civil rights and anti-human trafficking, Rajasthan, said.
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