NEW DELHI, DEC. 28 (AP) — FOR TWO YEARS, BHOLA WORKED MORE THAN 15 HOURS A DAY WITHOUT BEING PAID OR ALLOWED TO VISIT HIS PARENTS. ON THURSDAY, A LOCAL PRIVATE ORGANIZATION FREED BHOLA, NOW 12, AND 49 OTHER CHILD LABORERS LIKE HIM.
The children are all boys between the ages of 8 and 14 whose parents are poor farm laborers in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. They were brought to New Delhi to work in small factories making elaborately embroidered fabric, which is called zari.
The embroidery requires working with very fine needles on which the children often hurt themselves.
“We freed these 50 children after some frantic parents came to us saying that they were unable to get in touch with their children,” said Kailash Satyarthi of the private group, called Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Children Mission.
The children were held captive in the factory and not allowed to visit their parents.
On Thursday, some of the children described to reporters how they were often slapped and beaten with leather belts.
“For two years, these children have worked for free,” Mr. Satyarthi said. “This is a sort of slavery.”
“There are a million such places where the child labor laws are laughed at.”
Despite the subcontinent’s growing economic power, child labor remains widespread in India. An estimated 13 million children work in India, many of them in hazardous industries, like glass making, even though such labor has been officially banned since 1986.
Earlier this year, India also banned the hiring of children under 14 as servants in homes or as workers in restaurants, tea shops, hotels or spas.
Critics of India’s child labor laws say the bans have limited impact because they do little to address the poverty at the root of the problem.
Such laws continue to be flouted in small factories and businesses throughout the country where there is no accounting for the workers. Children who work in such jobs are usually poorly paid and underfed and often beaten.
For the children themselves, the issue is not as clear-cut as many outside India would think. The children come from bitterly poor families and have little or no access to even a primary education. In many cases, they are their families’ sole breadwinners.
Charges have been filed against the owners of the factories that employed the children who were released Thursday, but all three owners have absconded.
Bhola, who goes by one name, told reporters he had worked from 8 a.m. to midnight on most days with two short breaks for meals. At night, 15 to 20 boys would sleep in the same workroom.
“If we made mistakes, the owner would beat us with a belt and we would be given food once early in the morning and then at the end of the day,” Bhola said.
Bhola’s father, Ram Munyasa, had agreed to send him to New Delhi based on promises from a middleman that his son would get an education and a salary of at least $65 to $80 a month.
“Every few months I would ask him why my son wasn’t sending any money and I would be told that his work hadn’t started yet,” Mr. Munyasa said. “Finally I had to come to Delhi searching for him.”
Next to Bhola sat Ashraf, who said he was 11 but looked much younger. The Save the Children Mission still has to locate his parents. Until then he will stay in a transit home for children.
Asked what he wanted to do now that he is free, he replied: “I want to go home to my mother.”