Travels through the Hindi belt: In Bihar's Gaya, parents forced to put kids to work in absence of solution from state
Bihar's Gaya district, home to the famour Mahabodhi temple, is infamous for being the centre of child trafficking in the state.
In Bihar, according to official records, 1,101 kids involved in child labour during 2015-16 were rescued. That number reduced to 1,050 the following year
According to a report by the Centre for Monitoring India Economy (CMIE), as of December 2018, Bihar's labour participation rate stood at 38 percent, almost five points below the national average
The state has no rehabilitation plan in place, which means that kids who are rescued and sent home are likely to be trafficked again
Editor's note: This is part of a multi-article series on the jobs crisis in the three states crucial to Lok Sabha election 2019: Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
With only three months of guaranteed work and no farmland of his own, Rajdev Manjhi, 55, barely sustains his household. Therefore, when a familiar face approached him two years ago and offered Rs 3,000 in exchange for his 13-year old son's services at a bangle factory in Jaipur, he could not say no. "I only get work in other people's farms when the crops are sowed at the beginning of the season, and when they are harvested at the end," he says, sitting in his hut made of hay, "That is hardly a total of three months a year at Rs 200 a day. I am mostly running around for work unsuccessfully the rest of the time. Can you provide for your family in that amount?"
Rajdev is a resident of Kharanti village in Bihar's Gaya district, which is home to the famous Mahabodhi temple with the tree under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. However, the district is infamous for being the centre of child-trafficking in the state.
The contractors through whom the kids are trafficked are mostly distant relatives or acquaintances of the villagers, says Manoj Kumar, who runs Ek Kiran Arohi, an NGO in Gaya, and has followed the issue closely. "They strike a deal with parents and take the kids aged eight to 14 years to different states," he says, "Parents never admit that. But the fact is if they had work, they would not send their kids away."
Neither does Rajdev. "He voluntarily went," he says, as his neighbours overhear the conversation.
Sujit, 15, his son, however, unwittingly throws his father under the bus. Upon asked how much money he received before he agreed to work, he says, "My father finalised the deal."
Kids are preferred at bangle factories because their tiny fingers and little hands suit the art of meticulously designing the slender surface of bangles. But they are treated like slaves.
Sujit worked in Jaipur for seven months. At the time of the deal, he was promised Rs 3,000 per month. But his first salary was delayed. "I started work at 8 am and it went on till 1 am, with three meal breaks," he says, chin down, fiddling with his slippers, "It was a single-room factory, where four other kids like me also worked. Adjacent to the factory was our room where we all slept together."
In Bihar, according to official records, 1,101 kids involved in child labour during 2015-16 were rescued. That number reduced to 1,050 the following year. And in 2017-18, 920 kids were rescued in the state. Thirty percent of them were reportedly rescued from Gaya.
Manoj says the number of those trafficked to different states is four times the number of kids rescued. "The kids are taken to Rajasthan, Hyderabad, Telangana, Himachal, Karnataka and so on," he says, "The kids are only rescued from Rajasthan because the NGOs working for child welfare over there are active. The rest of the states hardly locate any cases of child labour."
Sujit is one of those to have been rescued from Jaipur in 2017. But the challenge begins after the kids are rescued. "What does the state do to rehabilitate them?" asks Sumanti Devi, whose son, Gulab, also returned with Sujit, "The kids do not attend school. The administration is not doing anything to encourage education. Schools have one teacher for every 100 students."
According to the 2011 Census, only 48 percent of Bihar's Schedule Castes are literate. And 30 percent of them live in Gaya. One of the most backward among the Mahadalits in Bihar are Musahars, and a majority of the kids trafficked from Gaya belong to the community. It is also the community of former Bihar chief minister, Jitan Ram Manjhi.
Manoj says most of them are landless peasants and do not earn enough to sustain the family. "And when a member is away, there is one less meal to be worried about," he says, "It is a direct consequence of lack of employment for unskilled workers."
The unemployment rate in Bihar is soaring. According to a report by the Centre for Monitoring India Economy (CMIE), as of December 2018, Bihar's labour participation rate stood at 38 percent, almost five points below the national average, which is alarming, considering it is the third most populous state in India. The labour force's unemployment rate was 8.77 percent, more than two points above the national average. The overall unemployment in the state stands at 10.9 percent, significantly more than India’s 7.2 percent.
In that context, a scheme like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was perceived as a crucial intervention to generate rural employment. One of the major objectives of MGNREGA was "enhancing livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year, to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work".
However, in the district of Gaya, 92,832 households were employed under MGNREGA in 2018-19, of which 427 completed 100 days or more at work, or 0.46 percent. The year 2017-18 employed fewer households at 84,800. 142 of them completed 100 days of work, which is 0.16 percent. The year before, in 2016-17, 84,285 households got employment. 188 of them did 100 days or more, or 0.22 percent.
Therefore, when the rescued kids return home, there is one more stomach to be fed, and that is, sadly, a burden. The lack of a rehabilitation policy means the kids again travel out of the state to work at factories. In 2016, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had initiated a rehabilitation scheme under which the state would provide Rs 25,000 to a child who has been rescued, and he or she would get it in their bank account with interest after they turn 18.
Upon asked if they received any help or money, Sumanti, in a split second, says, "Absolutely nothing."
Manoj Kumar, who runs an NGO, Ek Kiran Arohi, and has followed the issue closely, talks about child trafficking from Gaya.
How long have you been in Gaya?
Since 2010. And I have seen kids being trafficked right from the beginning. Gaya falls in the Magadh region, which was one of the most prosperous during the Mughal era, because it had its own rivers and canals. It is now one of the poorest.
When did you start your NGO?
In 2014. I have been in the social sector since 2002. But after seeing what was happening in Gaya, I thought I should do something about it. It is the worst in terms of child trafficking.
How are more and more kids lured into it?
The contractors are people known to the family. Once they take one kid, they train them to say attractive things to say about life away from home. They downplay the slavery bit, but exaggerate the meals and clothes that the kids get from their employers. It lures other kids and their parents at the same time. They feel the child is not studying anyway . At least he or she will make some money.
If the contractor is known to the family, how do you locate them and how do you stop the trafficking?
We have our sources. We know the routes they take. So we have rescued nearly 400 kids in three years from railway stations, bus stands, before they were being sent to various states.
Is that satisfying?
Not exactly. The challenges begin after the kids are rescued. As an NGO, we refer the cases to the child welfare committee, and then they take it forward. But the state has no rehabilitation plan in place. Which means the kids even after being sent home are likely to be trafficked again. It happens all the time. After we caught them at railway or bus stations, they change their routes. At times, when the contractor is not confident of passing through security, he pays parents a travel allowance and they travel with the kids to where they are being taken. And return without them. We know what is happening, but we cannot do anything about it because the child is with his or her guardian.
What is worse is that we face tremendous difficulties in filing FIRs against the contractors that are trafficking kids. Secondly, it jeopardises the security of the parents. If the contractor is jailed, his relatives threaten the parents because technically, the contractor had taken their kids consensually after striking a deal. Just like the lack of rehabilitation plan, there is no protection plan in place either.
So what do you do?
It is a Catch-22 situation. Even after rescuing kids, the parents are not exactly thankful, because the lack of state followup lands them in more trouble. So we have currently stopped rescuing. We are in the process of devising a strategy on how we can take those cases to their logical conclusion. We want to work for the betterment of the kids, not just make a name for ourselves.
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