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The Streets of Kolkata: A World Beyond Begging

                               The Streets of Kolkata: A World Beyond Begging


PROLOGUE:

December 26, 2014 - Highlighting the plight of child beggars in the city, a PIL has sought the Delhi High Court direction to ensure their rehabilitation and eliminate child beggary.
After brief arguments, a bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice P S Teji posted the matter for further consideration on January 7.

“The issue of child begging has already been seized by the Supreme Court and it was already monitoring the same. We will keep the matter pending.” the bench said.
The PIL, filed by Ajay Gautam, sought directions in identifying exact number of destitute children who are involved in begging and to review the steps taken to solve this problem.
[Source: Indian Express]

July 23, 2008 - Pathshishu, the five-year-old agency, takes the children to the beggars in the morning and returns them to their parents in the evening - all for a fee of course. Never mind that it pushes children as young as one into the dark industry of begging or that it is a form of child labour.

"There are so many poor families in West Bengal's villages that fail to provide for their wards. At times there are as many as six children in a family. Every dawn they bring their kids to us and we distribute them among the city beggars," Montu Pal, owner of the agency, told IANS.

"Throughout the day the children stay and beg with them, and return home in the evening."
Pal said that there is a great demand for "helpless-looking" children, which makes the beggars outsource them from rural areas.



"In this way both parties are satisfied" - the parents don't have to bother about food and drinks for their wards, at the same time they earn money from beggars who hire the kids.
"Most of the children come from West Bengal's rural areas of Panskura, Uluberia and Andul. The demand is the highest for babies as small as one - and their parents are given as much as Rs 100 per day. The next in-demand age group is two-five years, who get a daily pay of Rs 50."
[Source: Hindustan Times]


THE CONSTITUTIONAL FACTS:

The central legislature of India had made a codification, Child and Adolescent Labour Act, 1986 to regulate the child labour practices in India. In the year 2016, the central legislature had made substantial changes in the provisions of the Act and the amendments have been made effective since July 30, 2016. A complete prohibition has been imposed on employment of child labour. A person below the age of 14 years in any establishment is not permitted to take part in labour work. The child is permitted to work only to help his/her family, in the family enterprise or as a child artist after school hours or during vacations.

The amendment has introduced the concept of adolescent labour for the first time. An adolescent has been defined as a person between the ages of 14-18 years. The amendment permits employment of adolescent labour except in hazardous processes or occupation. Liability has been affixed upon the parents and guardian of the affected child/children separately from the employers. The Act provides for increased penalty and imprisonment which shall not be less than 6 months and may extend upto 2 years and fine which may vary between Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 50,000. Previously, the violations under the CL  Act were punishable with imprisonment of not less than 3 months which could extend to one year or/and with fine of Rs. 10,000 which could extend to Rs. 20,000.


The Act provides that no child shall be permitted to work between 7 PM and 8 AM and shall not be permitted to work over time. No child shall work for more than 3 hours before he has an interval of one hour. Spread over has been fixed at six hours. A child cannot work in more than one establishment on any day. A weekly holiday is allowed. The Act also provides health and safety measures for the children. Section 13 of the Act describes to provide child workers facilities of drinking water, latrines and urinals, cleanliness, disposal of wastes and effluents, ventilation and temperature, etc.


REALITY CHECK:

Whatever we might talk about will seem extremely clichéd to the public because it is obvious that we are not the first ones to talk about or bring up such an issue. So what is the difference between our observations and those lengthy and tedious reports enmeshed in intricate statistics?

Here we have taken over an extensive task of visiting different areas of Kolkata and found quite a few interesting as well as horrifying facts that the Non-Governmental Organizations never care to throw a light upon.

Speaking of child labour, it is evident that India falls in the top 10 countries where children and adolescents are brutally exploited in every sphere of their daily lives. The position of India in terms of child labour is not an appreciable one; with credible estimates ranging from 60 to 110 million , India has the largest number of working children in the world. They earn little and are made to work more. These children mainly consist of orphans, kids who live in slums and sometimes kids coming from the outskirts of the city to earn a living to support their massive families.



There is a common misconception among the people of the working class, that more hands will fetch more money. So along with an alarming increase in population, these children are forced to lead a life of utter misery. They are denied their basic rights of education, a healthy lifestyle and the right to other amenities that affect a normal upbringing. They are forced to choose some dreadful modes of income like stealing, begging, providing labour at shops and also as household help where they are given ruthless tasks.




SCENE 1:

We tried our luck in gathering some information about the social evil and went to Nandan, one of the places of Kolkata, highly populated by intellectuals and the literati. It was extremely shocking to see how such an area has so many kids in rags running around, begging for alms. Among them, a boy of merely 8 years came to us begging for some money and said that he was starving. We offered him an ice cream and he readily agreed. We tried to bring a conversation with the child and learnt that he goes to a school run by an NGO but not regularly. While talking to him we noticed some marks on his cheeks which were evidently dried adhesive. When we asked him about that, a middle aged woman appeared and hurriedly took the kid away and told us not to interfere in their personal lives. While leaving, she told us that nowadays they are looked down upon as objects of charity and the NGOs have been repeatedly pestering them for information.

SCENE 2:

Nandan Cultural Complex, 4:15 PM: While searching for more information, it was here where we managed to acquire some edge. It just so happened that we found some kids who were selling incense sticks much higher than the market value. At first walked around, stopping at regular intervals trying to seem like potential customers. After a certain amount of time a kid approached us. He was about 10-12 years of age and asked us if we would buy some. We paid him Rs.20 and bought one. In doing so, we were able to ask him a few questions, mainly how much he earns and who it goes to. Later as we went in search for some more ideal sources, we noticed that there was a younger kid of about 5-6 years of age who was with him and with whom our source was interacting with at regular intervals. We sat for some time and while doing so we noticed a lady who passed us rather suspiciously, whom we had seen in the vicinity since we arrived and she was interacting with the children but was not evidently a mother. After some time, the kid approached us again and asked if we would buy some more. We agreed in lieu of some more information. We got to know that his daily earnings range from Rs.150-200, and the younger kid is not his brother, but they sell incense for the same person. He informed us that the whole money earned goes to a person who allows them to keep a part. Lastly when we asked him about his family, he told us that he has his mother and younger brother at home back in Sonarpur, S. 24 Parganas and he comes to Nandan every day by availing local trains. We bid him adieu after this and we saw him going up to that lady and talking.

SCENE 3:

Rabindra Sarovar Lake, 5:30 PM: We see a man giving a teen boy a covered bowl and asking to beg. The man looks quite well off. When the boy came to us begging, we asked him for information in exchange of Rs. 20. We were shocked we he asked for Rs. 20 in coins. He added that if we gave him the money not in coins, there will be a lot of problem for him. He told us that the man pays for his mother's treatment and also provides them food. He said that these coins are colloquially called 'rejki'. These huge amount of coins are illegally transported to Bangladesh through the Balurghat-Bongaon corridor and these are bought by blade companies to make blades. One Rs.2 coin can be totally utilised to make two blades.

CURTAIN CALL:

After extensive studies, we concluded that the pedlar hubs of child begging are mainly situated in the far south of the city, in the Sonarpur-Baruipur area. We also came to know that these coins are easily transported with cows to the other side of the border and we also came to know that there’s more than one racquet that helps you cross the border with ease to Bangladesh with fees as low as Rs. 500 and without passport and visa.

NGO SPEAKS:
We talked to a small NGO which revealed to us some shocking statistics on child abuse and child labour. Out of the estimated 26 million births in the country each year, approximately 9.4 million, or 36%, go unregistered. So these children are devoid of any basic identity hence making them vulnerable to abuse including sexual one. We were shocked to hear that 2 out of 3 kids in Kolkata itself are sexually, mentally or physically abused and are misused as cheap labor resources. Another distressing fact is that so many organizations have mushroomed in the past few years that the scenario has changed massively. People from these organizations make fake promises to these children just to extract certain information and most of the times never come back. So they naturally grow hatred for these people. So when genuine people want to help them, they refuse to cooperate.


EPILOGUE:

The problem that we are experiencing is an extremely crucial one. The future of a developing nation lies in the hands of the next generation which consists hugely of these children. As such we can't possibly chalk out any remedy instantly for such an age old problem but we have come to a conclusion that these children should be taken under proper custody of the government. The government should properly scrutinize the funds that are being allotted to different NGO-s and other organizations created for the welfare of these children.  It may be colossal but perhaps the government can definitely spare some time to think about the future generation. The children should be properly educated about their basic rights and not only by some profit-hungry organizations, but the common people themselves. Furthermore, trained candidates should be hired to research and create a regular update of the condition of these kids since it's a thorough process.


  Charity begins at home, so the first step would be to report all those visible cases of child labor in vogue. Be it inside a house or at a tea stall.
Lastly during certain festivities we encourage all of you readers to come forward and gift them chocolates or at least a dress because some smiles can be priceless





By: Mainak Das
       Aritro Ghosh
       Srimoyee Chowdhury

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