Slavery of a Kind

Slavery persists in our age in various forms. The bonded labour system is one of them. Child labour is another kind of bonded labour. Both arise out of socio-economic and historical reasons. India, the largest democratic country in the world, has 65 million bonded child labourers, and 300 million adult labourers living a life of bondage and contemporary forms of slavery, according to our estimates. This is despite Constitutional guarantees and prohibitive laws like the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976, the Child labour (Prohibition and Regulation Act) 1986 and International Conventions on the subject. Child labour (5 years to 14 years of age) is rampant not only in agriculture but also in industries such as those manufacturing matches, locks, carpets, stone quarries, brick kilns, tanneries and diamond cutting and polishing units. These children are denied their fundamental right to childhood, to education, to play and to dream like a normal child. They have to labour for more than 8 hours every day. Legal and human rights battles on their behalf have been successfully fought in the Supreme Court of India. Parliament too has been approached. United Nations Human Rights Commission, ILO and UNICEF have been sensitised. Yet, the 20 year-old struggle is only a beginning. A lot more remains to be done.

Bonded Labour Liberation Front(Bandhua Mukti Morcha)

Bandhua Mukti Morcha (BMM) was formed in 1981 to wage a battle against the pernicious bonded labour system in India. Administrative and political will to carry out the Constitutional mandate and enforce prohibitive laws of the land failed to produce any results. Against all odds, Bandhua Mukti Morcha has achieved the release of over 1,24,000 bonded Indians from the shackles of slavery. A large number of them have been rehabilitated. From the Carpet Industry alone, about a thousand children have been rescued and restored to their parents. Their rehabilitation has been monitored effectively. BMM has started a campaign for the provision of non-formal, full time education for these children, alongwith the supply of nutrition to each and also some food security to their poor families.

As a result of BMMís efforts, the leaders of the leading political parties have expressed their concern on the issue of child labour and often made a mention of it in their election manifestos in Parliamentary elections. Bandhua Mukti Morcha has been campaigning for a national minimum wage equivalent to first-day salary of a class IV employee in Government service. Its revision is to be done on cost price index as is done for the Government employees. The State Governments may fix minimum wage according to the local conditions but not below the National Minimum Wage.

 Citizensí Commission

Bandhua Mukti Morcha has been making a demand for a National Commision on Bonded Labour with judicial and financial powers. But successive governments have failed to do so. Bandhua Mukti Morcha has, therefore, constituted a Citizensí Commission on Bonded and Child Labour, with eminent persons of political, social and judicial integrity as members. They include former Judges of the Supreme Court of India, eminent artists, journalists, lawyers and social activists.



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