MUMBAI-Police in India’s Mumbai placed nearly 70 poor boys in care on Tuesday after rescuing them from traffickers who were bringing them to the city to work.
Twenty-four people were arrested for bringing the boys to Mumbai for illegal under-age employment, said Vijay Dhopavkar, inspector in charge at the railway police station in the suburb of Kurla.
Most of the boys were aged between 10 to 16.
“In all 69 rescued children have been sent to children’s homes. Of these, 12 boys are from the under-12 age group,” Dhopavkar told an international news agency.
He said most of those arrested on Monday were known to the children and “had got these boys to the city willingly, with full knowledge of their respective families to get them employed”.
“Those rescued… belong to weak, poor families and welcome opportunities to work, earn money,” the inspector added.
The arrests and rescues took place as a train carrying the boys arrived in Kurla from the northern state of Bihar, said Sharmishta Khandagle, from an non-governmental organisation, Pratham, which tipped off police.
She said the boys were headed to work in leather factories, in sewing jobs or in small hotels.
“They are all in the 10-to-16 age range and are largely illiterate,” Khandagle added.
“Kids were scared and gave varying statements. Some said they had come to visit Mumbai while others said they had come to study. But that was clearly false since most had just a plastic bag with two pairs of clothes.”
While the total number of child workers is debatable, UNICEF has estimated that 28 million Indian children aged five to 14 are engaged in some form of employment.
The megacities of Mumbai and Delhi are a particular draw for young migrants trying to earn a living, and for criminals trafficking children into forced labour.
A 2009 Right to Education Act mandates free and compulsory schooling for those aged 6 to 14. But an outright ban on child labour for under-14s — as proposed by the previous government in 2012 — has yet to be passed by parliament.
India activist Kailash Satyarthi, recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, has called on legislators to implement the ban.
Child labour is widespread in India, with youngsters working as hawkers, rubbish collectors and rag pickers and in sewing and other workshops.
Many underage labourers who are returned to their homes by authorities are sent back to work by their impoverished parents.