Bonded Child Labourers Fast in City

The Asian Age, New Delhi
August 14, 1998

New Delhi: Thirteen year-old Manju, who believes that "padhney se sab kuch hota hai", has come to Delhi from Alwar to "meet the President." Manju and all the 51 bonded child labourers sat on a day-long fast outside Rajghat on Thursday to register their protest against bonded child labour in the country.

Led by Swami Agnivesh's Bandhua Mukti Morcha, the 51 children went without food and water for the whole day because they "want to study" and not play the bread winner of their families anymore. These children symbolically represent the 6.5 crore bonded child labourers in a country which is celebrating its Golden Jubilee of Independence," said Swami Agnivesh. Citing Mahatma Gandhi's wish that there be no slavery, in any form in free India, Swami Agnivesh said that it was indeed "ironical that these children were not allowed to go inside Rajghat to pay homage to the very leader who dreamt of their freedom, because the Prime Minister is to visit the samadhi on Independence Day for a few minutes.

With placards reading "Ham ghulam hain aur desh azaad (We are slaves while our nation is free)" and strongly-worded slogans, voiced in angry, dissatisfied tones they fully displayed their protest. They even have their families' support for this.

But how far will these efforts go? Though Manju was "freed" on December 10, 1996 by a Supreme Court order, she hasn't been able to attend school, something she still dreams of doing, till date. Though the court ordered Manju's employer to pay a compensation of Rs. 20,000 to Manju besides an additional Rs. 5,000 to be provided by the state government, Manju's family is still to see the money. Even the meagre amount of Rs 300 which went towards supporting her family of seven has stopped now. So what is to become of children like Manju?

"This is also an area which would be addressed by us. We are not only demanding quick payments but are also demanding that the state government make a fixed deposit in their names so that with the help of that money the children are able to start their schooling," Swami Agnivesh explained.

The charter of their demands include "enforcement of free and compulsory education, the parents of child labourers be covered by National Minimum Wage norms on par with government Class IV employees," and using mass communication agencies like Doordarshan and Akashwani to spread awareness regarding wage laws and other such provisions ensured by the Constitution, besides a few other demands.