I’m an adult, says boy caught for child labour

May 1st, 2009 - 10:39 am ICT by IANS  

By Maitreyee Boruah
Bangalore, May 1 (IANS) Mohammad Mani alias Jabbar, from distant Malda in West Bengal, would not have thought when he arrived here a month ago in search of work that he would land in trouble over his age if he starts working.

Mani began working at the construction site of Bangalore Metro in the upscale locality of Jayanagar.

His luck ran out on April 26 when an NGO working for the cause of the environment organised a protest at the construction site as laying the metro line in the area would entail chopping hundreds of trees.

The protesters saw Mani and two others of his age working at the site and, as the three appeared to be child labourers, alerted Child Helpline, a nationwide network working for child rights.

The Helpline managed to rescue only Mani on April 28. He is now in the care of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and lodged in a government-run boys’ home.

Mani claims he is an adult. He adds that he came to Bangalore from a village (the name of which he is not certain) in Malda district of West Bengal, after writing his eighth standard exams, to work and earn during his vacation.

“It was during our protest rally at Nanda Theatre Road (in Jayanagar) against the proposed metro line through the heart of Lalbagh Botancial Garden that we saw children working as labourers at the construction site of Bangalore Metro.

“We immediately intervened and lodged a complaint with the Labour Commissioner and the CWC, as child labour is banned in India,” coordinator of the NGO Hasiru Usiru (Greenery is Life) Vinay Sreenivasa told IANS.

“We could not locate the other two boys as stated by Hasiru Usiru,” said a member of Child Helpline.

The CWC is trying to verify Mani’s age. If it is established that he is below the permissible age to work, action will be initiated against Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) and Nagarjuna Construction Company which has bagged the contract for work in the area, a CWC spokesperson said.

“I am 18,” Mani maintained. “I have come to work in Bangalore during my vacation time. We’re poor people. I want to contribute to my family’s earning. To work and earn is no crime,” said Mani, in his broken Hindi, as he tried to reason with CWC officials quizzing him.

CWC chairperson Vasudev Sharma pointed to Mani at the boys’ home and asked IANS: “Does he look 18? He does not look more than 14.”

“It’s common. Whenever we rescue child labour, both the child and employer say that the child is 18 years old to avoid any legal action. Only poor children work and they have no other option but to earn their livelihood,” said V. Susheela, convener of the Karnataka chapter of Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL).

“Mani told us that back home he has his father, mother, two brothers and a sister,” said Sharma.

The CWC has begun looking into the angle of trafficking of children as, according to Mani, one man by the name of Ansur had given Mani’s father Rs.200 before bringing him to Bangalore and giving him work, said Sharma.

Mani claims that he was earning Rs.110 per day working at the construction site.

Currently 160 children are staying in the boys’ home. Most of them were rescued from their employers.

(Maitreyee Boruah can be contacted at m.boruah@ians.in)

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