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"Children covered in dust and filth crashing hammers into stones"

September 24th, 2010
12:31 AM ET

Editor’s Note: Harvard human trafficking fellow Siddharth Kara is undertaking a research trip around South Asia, looking at issues of forced labor, trafficking and child bondage. He will be getting access to the heart of the problem, and telling CNN.com readers what he has discovered every week over the next ten weeks.

During my research in South Asia this summer, I spent several days documenting labour abuses in New Delhi for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, particularly relating to child labour.

In a few short days, I documented thirty-two reliable cases of human trafficking for forced labour and fourteen cases of child labour throughout the city. To do so, I spent several hours speaking with and observing groups of men, women, and children working in construction until I felt the burden of exploitation had been met. Had I spent more time, I have no doubt that I would have documented many more cases than this.

Throughout Delhi, entire families had been trafficked from across north India into the capital to build the stadiums, metro extensions, and road enhancements required to host the Games.

Images of tiny children covered in dust and filth crashing hammers into stones or carting rubble from one side of the road to another right in front of the magnificent Indira Gandhi stadium were among the most difficult for me to observe.

Listening to numerous tales of deception and exploitation were not easy, though they did enlighten me as to how exactly this exploitation had come to pass.

Gurahu, his wife, his three children, his brother, his brother’s wife, and their two children were promised work in construction in Delhi at minimum wages of approximately $4.50 per day, and about half this amount for the children. Illiterate, Gurahu signed a contract with his thumbprint. His family traveled from Bihar, India, and two months later, they say they have only been paid for two weeks of work at approximately $2.20 per day. The contractor/trafficker who recruited them to Delhi on behalf of the construction company evidently keeps the rest. A similar formula was repeated in all cases I documented.

Gurahu’s children, ages five to nine, work with him seven days a week from eight am to seven pm. Scores of other workers toil along side them. They sleep in makeshift plastic tents in the dirt. The contractor arranges two meager meals a day of rice and daal, flies swarming as they eat. There is no running water. They use the toilet behind trees, or in the middle of the construction sites (as was noted in the Athlete’s Village just a few days ago). They work in oppressive heat and humidity. They continue to work because they are promised they will eventually be paid.

“We are dying here,” Gurahu told me. “I wish I had never left Bihar.”

The atrocious working conditions have been perilous for workers and local citizens alike. No one really knows how many injuries and deaths have occurred due to the unsafe conditions, but it is generally regarded to be several times more than any other city’s preparations for a major international sporting event.

Men, women, and children slog in filth and squalor in broad daylight.

Were you to drive through the streets of Delhi even today, you would see men, women, and their children toiling around the clock to try to salvage an event that is fast becoming a national shame.

Time will tell what lessons are learned from these Games, and whether a nation can find a way to protect all its citizens, especially its children – – to educate them and give them space to grow and play as children should.

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soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Pattabi

    Yes, it is. However many can not understand poverty. Let me explain. These children are from Bihar, the poorest state of India and takes care of labour work at north and east India. No other state have significant child labours. Why Bihar is so poor? because it was very rich in culture and economy. It was like Greece. Home of Buddha and Ashoka the Great emperor and bed for Himalayas rivers and their ancient Nalanda university. But it was damaged by Islamic invaders and same condition was maintained by British rule. Recently people woke up and elected a wise man as its chief minister and the growth rate is 14%. So, these children will send their children to school.

    September 25, 2010 at 2:00 am | Reply
  2. Natha

    Yes, child labour exists(a response to Godsdisciple) but out of this, one should know that a child might just be doing exactly what they see the parents doing, i am from Nigeria and from our training, when you see your parents work, if you cannot collect the job from them, you should join them. I do not like the way India is being portrayed as a poor country, we should also know the feelings of people are involved and the respect for the country is degrading. When Delhi was voted to host the commonwealth games, the status of the country was known so, such a big issue should not be made out of this.

    September 27, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  3. Adekunle .O. Oluwashola Israel

    @BeckyCNN / What the western call Child labor is not always Child labor, most time is like summer job in western World, We don't have that asses to working in Fast food center like McDonald, or K F C & other jobs that most of your children have asses to.. As a child growing up in Eastern Nigeria, I also do all such of jobs, i.e. Carrying of Blocks(bricks), working in construction, or better still Work in farms & lot more.. all of this in other to cloths my self & support my parent through school, as well as helping my self, I believe child labor really exist, but in most cases of develop Country like India or Nigeria and so many others, is not what it look like.... Anyway, thank you for looking up for those innocent ones.....

    September 27, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  4. River

    Ever since I left high school and became more engaged with the world, I always saw a new breed of writers, intellectuals, changemakers, etc. reporting every issue imaginable in the world. Now into my late 30s, I would like to see a new form of journalism whereby problems aren't just reported, but also an investigation into getting to the root source of the problem and, the part that is often missing, possible suggestions as to how to attack the root source in order to fix the other problems that arise as a byproduct. Problems such as human trafficking exist because there is an unaddressed hole or missing link to connecting the dots in the socio-economic-political triangle. There is a bigger picture that connects the dots and the stories together to the problem that is cited and reported. It is not enough to leave readers to draw their own perceptual conclusion. Journalists play an immense role in perception management within society. Shouldn't the 21st century now call for a new reporting model, a new journalism model, a new model of journalists' role in society that effects a country at large, the world at large?

    September 28, 2010 at 3:35 am | Reply
  5. River

    The family that chose the job are doing it because they are lacking in work elsewhere. Yes, we can all agree human trafficking and such kinds of labor should be stopped, but provide a solution of what kinds of job this man and his family can take on. What other resources can they go to? What is the solution for this family. So journalists come, interview, report, and leave them and move on to the next story – leaving behind a negative image of India, Delhi, etc. without a solution for all the individual families. What is the action to help these people – will this part not be included in future stories?

    September 28, 2010 at 3:40 am | Reply
  6. GMT (Jamaica)

    Natha, how can you say that this is God's discipline, Do you really think that this is something He would approve of. I would leave Him out of this if I were you unless its a prayer for Him to help the little children. This is a chronic form of child labour, trafficking, abuse and exploitation. I dont care if it is seen as an accepted norm in Nigeria or wherever else for that matter, it is still the same and should be abolished. I do hope this is treated as a criminal activity in India and the labour inspectorate was called in to intervene in the matter for the sake of theses poor children. This cannot be accepted as a normal life for any child. Children below the age of 14 should not be working 11 hours per day doing such hard labour and be exposed to and worst yet, reside in those abysmall conditions . This will definitely negatively affect their physical, mental emotional wellbeing. There poor bodies are still in the development stages and with this level of strenuous demand on it, their health is at high risk and the nutrition is extremely poor, these will have some impact on their physical development. Under those conditions when do the children go to school, get time to play and get adequate sleep, these are necessary for their mental, emotional and psychological development. You may not see the effects immediatele but they will manifest in adulthood. this should not be likened to holiday jobs for children who are going to school or even children below 14 who go to school and do light work meaning they help out , under the supervision of some adult and the work isn't hazardous and affect their physical, mental, emotional or psychological wellbeing. It is time that countries like India, Africa, Asia and other developing or any developed countries where this is being practiced stop it. It is cruel and inhumane. Children are not responsible to provide the livelihood of themselves, their parents or relatives or anyone else for that matter, sick or otherwise. It is the other way around the parents or caregivers are responsible to provide for them, and they should be made to and give the children a chance to be children and grow and develop as God intends for them to.God enabled that by giving them two parents. It is the Government's responsibility to create job opportunities for it's citizens and in the event that it fais to so, then safety net measures are put in place to help the family until they can find employment to provide for their families. Child labour or trafficking cannot be the answer because it will cause adverse effect on the family and will also affect the economy and development of the country in the medium and longrun, It will also carries a stigma that will malign the countries in which it is practiced despite their economic or other status.

    November 2, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Reply

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