My first reaction to this news was ‘ is there a typo in that number?’ Child Trafficking is a huge problem all over India, and more so in the North Eastern states. Shillong based ‘Impulse NGO Network’ estimates around 70,000 Nepalese and Bangladeshi child workers work in bonded labour in the coal mines of Jaintia Hills district in Meghalaya.
According to the 6th Schedule of the Indian Constitution the tribal and native communities residing in Meghalaya have exclusive rights over their land which includes the right to operate mines on these lands. This situation means that thousands of privately owned mines are operating in the Jaintia Hills and although this is a legal use of the land, child labour and bondage labour is prevalent.
Trucks that cross the border to Bangladesh with cargo, return with children who are lured by false promises, purchased by ‘middle men’ or abducted from their homes.
According to ‘Impulse’ estimates the children are bought for anywhere between 50 to 75 US dollars. Then they are forced to work for free in the horrendous working conditions of the coal mines. Their work is considered repayment of the debt they owe, which is nothing more than the price at which they were bought. The mines are infamously known as the ‘rat mines’ of Meghalaya after the narrow and crude holes dug into the hills where the children risk their lives daily. There is lack of safe drinking water, proper sewage system and no medical facilities available.
Despite government promises of strict action to prevent child labour, the NGO reports that only 2 labour inspectors have been assigned to the region. This situation is not confined only to Meghalaya. It reflects conditions in neighbouring Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland too.
Can we have some sort of system to take action against individuals and companies that employ children in domestic work, eateries, mining and similar establishments where child labour is prohibited? When will we wake up to the injustice meted out to these innocent children?