Saturday, May 13, 2006

Kids kept as collateral in Tamil Nadu

Smitha Rao
[ Friday, May 12, 2006 02:19:18 pm TIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

VELLORE: In a remote village in Tamil Nadu, little Nirmala (12), rolls her nimble fingers over a sheaf of tobacco leaves, pins them adroitly into a tumti yale and seals the edges. She has to do this about 2,000 times a day, like she has been doing for over two years now. Even while she is sleeping, she smells the pungent tobacco, the memory bringing forth a psychological cough. In Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district, every household has two or three Nirmalas, pledged as collateral. It’s a vicious cycle of poverty, labour — mostly child labour — and families on the brink of self-destruction. Every household has a story: the family takes a loan, then unable to repay it on time pledges a child as a labourer. The child is bonded to the menial work for life — for most often the family is not able to pay back and get the child released.

At Vellore and a few surrounding districts, the mainstay for people in the rural areas is not agriculture but industries like beedi rolling and match-stick rolling. Rajashekhar, who is just 14, says, “I had to roll 2,500 beedis a day because my family had borrowed Rs 2,000 after which my father fell ill. When I protested after four months of hard work, my employer threw something at me saying, ‘After all, you are a bonded labourer, do as I say’.” The boy rolled beedis for two-and-half years and before being rescued by an NGO, World Vision . Rajashekhar is now in a transit school run by World Vision. He said, “I want to be a teacher and teach my parents and my relatives, so that they don’t have to do this kind of work.” World Vision has so far freed 632 children from bonded labour. The NGO has been around for so long that families have started enrolling children into factories confident that “World Vision volunteers will rescue them later” . Volunteers from the NGO step in, pay the pledged amount and take charge of the children. According to Vellore coordinator for World Vision, Wesley, “The ‘Born to Be Free’ initiative started as an integrated approach to the huge problem of bonded labour. The project releases children from bondage and hazardous industries and meets their long-term educational, health and economic needs.”


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