By Ashutosh Mishra
Bhubaneswar: The worst part of the migrant labour trade is that a sizeable chunk of the labourers going out of the state in search of livelihood are children. According to one estimate, around 30,000 children from the drought belt of Bolangir and Nuapada leave their homes behind to work on farms and brick kilns under extremely harsh conditions. Some end up toiling in sweatshop-style factories.
Most go with their parents for whom life in the alien climes is just as tough. The children, it goes without saying, are never registered as labourers. For that matter, most of the adult migrants also prefer not to register themselves with the government as it suits the labour touts who hire them on behalf of their employers.
Lack of authentic data on child labourers makes them all the more vulnerable to exploitation. In fact, they constitute the most vulnerable section of the migrant labour force. They get paid less than the adults but are often made to work more than them.
Once caught in the vicious trap of this kind of labour, the children continue to suffer physically and mentally. While schooling becomes a dream for them they also find themselves subjected to all kinds of abuses including sexual abuse. Resistance is met with violence.
Not long ago state government had come up with a scheme for the education of the children of migrant labourers who spend a lot of time away from home. These were residential schools where they were provided with free food and other basic facilities. Some of these institutions had made a promising start drawing a large number of children from migrant labour families. I remember visiting one of these schools and meeting some of them.
But I am given to understand that things are no more the same. Attendance in these schools has been going down with no conscious attempt on the part of the authorities to persuade the families to leave their children in hostels when they migrate for work. Poor as they are these families have a tendency to treat young children as assets who can work and contribute to the family kitty.
Only a sustained awareness campaign can change this scenario but nothing significant seems to be happening on this front even though the future of thousands of children is at stake. The government needs to pay special attention to this problem and work in tandem with the voluntary sector to secure the future of these children who appear to be completely adrift at the moment.
Since migrant labour trade, one of the worst forms of human trafficking, is the harsh of reality of life in the hunger zones of the state it is incumbent upon us to ensure that at least children are saved from the exploiting clutches of labour touts and cruel employers who do not hesitate to use violence against them. Both the state and society have a responsibility towards them.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)