From child labourer to representing India globally

July 3rd, 2008 - 12:14 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 3 (IANS) Abducted and sold at a young age to work at a construction site, 13-year-old Rakesh never thought he would one day represent India at an international event. A proud Rakesh (who uses only his first name) doesn’t want to remember the days when he was beaten up with belts and used to work for more than 18 hours a day at a construction site in Amritsar. He prefers to talk about his achievements instead.

“Those were the dark days. I shudder whenever I think about my past. Now I have something to look forward to in life,” Rakesh, who now lives in Rajasthan but was in Delhi for a function, told IANS.

For the past two years, he has been a jury member of the World Children’s Prize For the Rights of the Child presented in Sweden in April.

Narrating his horror story, Rakesh, a native of Ghana in Bihar, said he was kidnapped by his neighbour when he was six and was sold to an agent in Amritsar. The boy worked as a child labourer without any wages.

“I was not paid and there were days when I had nothing to eat. There was no shelter. I had to work from dawn to dusk,” he said.

After six years of hardship, he was rescued by the Bachpan Bachaao Andolan, an NGO working for child rights. He was among 14 children who were similarly working as child labourers at construction sites in Punjab.

According to the 2001 census, 12.6 million children work as child labourers in India.

After he was rescued, Rakesh was sent back to his village in Bihar. But his troubles were far from over. He found that he could not fit in with his family as he had forgotten the native language.

“I had forgotten my native language so I couldn’t interact with my parents. For days, I remained in seclusion,” Rakesh said.

Later, he went to a shelter home run by the NGO and began studying in a school in Rajasthan. It was in April 2007, when he participated in a rally organised by the NGO to protest against child labour, that he was noticed.

The NGO suggested his name for the child rights award jury and was chosen for the international panel for five years. The jury selects a child for his remarkable contribution to advocating children’s rights and improving the situation of vulnerable children.

“Life would not have been worth living had I not been shown a ray of light by them,” he said referring to the NGO.

Kailash Satyarthi, who heads the NGO, is proud of these children who have made a name for themselves despite seeing much torture and exploitation.

“Children like him prove that if they are given a chance, they are no less than other well-off children. It’s just an initiative we need to take.”

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