Street children across various cities of India, between ages seven to thirteen years are working as ‘bartenders’ at several liquor shops of the city, wasting away their childhood through this stepping stone to graver criminal activity.
As the Child Labour Regulation and Juvenile Justice Acts have little teeth, social organizations and the administration find it unable to rescue and rehabilitate these children.
Consider this situation in the capital City of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal. Picture an early evening scene in front of any of the Wine and Beer shops at Bhopal revelry hotspots Tinshed, 5 number market, Bittan Market or Manisha Market.
A car with a bunch of 20-somethings screeches to a halt in the public parking lot in front of the liquor shop with the intention of setting up a ‘car-o-bar’ (a drinking session inside the car).
One of the fifteen odd boys below fourteen years of age walks up to the front window, to be given a few hundred-rupee notes by the car occupants.
The boy understands the rest.
Within five minutes, he returns with bottles of whisky and beer, soda, disposable glasses and namkeen to boot.
As the youths inside the car indulge in their booze party, the boy waits outside for his cut: a share of the liquor, near-finished cigarette butts, the liquor bottle and maybe a tip.
The boy then consumes the liquor and smokes the cigarette butt off and puts the bottle in his gunny bag to be sold later to the scrap dealer for two rupees.
The exact scenario might vary slightly across other cities, but isn’t this something all of us encounter, in one form or the other. Sometimes probably, and unknowingly, encouraging too.
“I make nearly twenty to thirty rupees each day this way. Sometimes I even get whisky to drink from the customers. I went to school for fifteen days two years ago but stopped going when my teacher hit me,” is what eight-year-old Sunny at the 5 number liquor shop at Bhopal says.
Interestingly, most of these children are not orphans and their earnings go to the family.
Three brothers who peddle liquor at the Tinshed liquor shop are sons of an auto-rickshaw driver.
“Our father broke the rickshaw in the accident and does not have money to repair it,” said nine-year-old Afzal, as he downed half a bottle of beer within seconds.
And this is something the Hyderabad based NGO, MVF Foundation is trying hard to change the perception of. Headed by Magsaysay Awardee Shantha Sinha, MVF has been trying for increasing acceptance of its research which it says has conclusively proved that every parent, no matter their economic status, wants their child to have a good education.
Recognizing the problem as grave, child rights activist RK Sharma of Bachpan Bachao Aandolan said, “Children keep finding newer ways of entry into criminal activities. Today it is liquor peddling, tomorrow it might be pick pocketing, drug peddling, burglary or even more serious crimes.”
According to child labour activist Archana Sahay, controlling such vices is tough because of weak laws.
“There are laws to rescue children from child labour but only if the labour is in a hazardous industry, if the child is being made to work forcibly or if the labour activity is criminal. But if no law is being broken, we are left helpless,” she said.
More than the legalities, or the lack of it, activists are uniform in saying that the problem has now transcended from a legal problem to one of a social nature. As long as people, and that is you and me, continue to encourage child labor, albeit implicitly, this evil is bound to flourish and harm many future generations.
What can we do about it?
Phenomena such as these are a dark reality of every city, perhaps in other flavours and varieties. What can we do about it?
First and foremost, not encourage these children by using their services.
Secondly, following are some important phone numbers you ought to have:
a. The local Assistant Commissioner of Police or Superintendent of Police (SP) or Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), whichever applicable for your city.
b. The district Collector
c. The government Childline/Child Helpline
d. Child Rights Activists working in your area
Phone numbers a,b,c are available from your local Police Station, Collectorate or the State Government Website. It is your fundamental right to know their landline as well as mobile numbers.
Phone number is something you have to find out.
Finding these phone numbers can be tedious, but it is a one time investment.
The moment you see any activity happening where children are doing/being made to do something inappropriate, send off phone calls to all four of the above people. If they don’t seem to listen, make a lot of noise, threaten going to the Press.
Ask them what they did about it a couple of days later.
Social evils like these the result of extreme apathy of the general public.
Clear yourself of preconceived notions about child labor and the reasons for its prevalence. THE FAQs given on MVF’s site at this link (http://www.mvfindia.org/faqs.htm) will help you understand and appreciate the nature of the problem and the probable path to solution.
And Lastly, do not expect immediate results.
Author Apurv Pandit is a Correspondent with The Pioneer, Bhopal and operates an NGO ‘Soochna Mitr’ for IT content development in rural areas. He abortively contemplates appearing for CAT again approximately 37 times per annum.