Nuns rescue children from exploitation in India

There are nearly 6 million child workers in India between the ages of five and 17
Nuns rescue children from exploitation in India

Sister Subheshana Thapa addresses a conference on child rights in New Delhi Sept. 23. ( photo)

When she was nine, Puja Kachu worked with a broom; now she swings a hockey stick. The 15-year-old was a domestic worker before becoming part of the Bengal state taekwondo champion.

"Others are not as lucky as I am. Thank God I am in safe hands," said Kachu, revealing how a Catholic nun helped her escape exploitation.

At the age of nine, she was employed as a domestic worker with a family in Kalimpong town. The family had promised to send her to school but they broke their word.

"I never enjoyed the work. My employer used to scold and beat me even for petty issues," said the tribal girl from Alipurduar district.

Her job included preparing food for the family's children, taking them to school, washing clothes and dishes and, if there was time left, working in the fields.

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Fortunately, her life as a domestic worker lasted less than two years before Sister Subheshana Thapa met her in 2012. Sister Thapa, director of the Bal Suraksha Abhiyan Trust (BSA, "child protection campaign"), carried out a raid with police and rescued her.

"Kachu's family is very poor. Her parents are daily wagers and have to support a family of seven," said the nun, who belongs to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny congregation. She added that children from poor families are more likely to fall into child labor.


Puja Kachu, a victim of child labor, explaining her life story at a conference on child rights in New Delhi Sept. 23 (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)


Last month, Kachu bagged a bronze medal in a state-level taekwondo competition. "Her bold nature supports her personality," said Sister Thapa, adding that she has also received formal educated funded by BSA.

BSA, which has been fighting child labor since 2006, has 256 children under its care. "Some have excelled in the fields of law, science, hotel management and computer engineering," said the nun. "Some show more potential in the field of sports."

Basic education among rescued children is usually low, according to Sister Thapa. So BSA, in collaboration with Caritas India, has enrolled the children in open schools.

Even though India has the Child and Adolescent Labor (prohibition and regulation) Act, which prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14, the practice continues unabated.

There are 5.7 million child workers in India between the ages of five and 17, according to the International Labor Organization's 2015 world report on child labor. They are employed in agriculture, weaving, making fireworks and matchsticks, restaurants, shops and hotels.

The Indian government amended the child labor act in July 2016 banning the employment of children under the age of 14 in all sectors updating the section that had previously set only banned children from 18 hazardous occupations such as mining, gemstone-cutting and cement manufacturing.

The amendments also increased jail terms up to two years and fines were beefed up from 20,000 rupees (US $300) to 50,000 rupees (US $740).

Poverty is the root cause of child labor, said Father Jaison Vadassery, from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India and it needs to be addressed to help the children. 

Adolescent girls are brought from tribal areas to cities under the pretext of good job opportunities but they are employed as domestic workers and exploited, said Mukti Prakash Tirkey, editor of a weekly on tribal affairs published in New Delhi.  

Better mechanisms are needed to check the migration of young women into cities, said Tirkey.

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