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CHILDLINE 1098 SERVICE » Operations » Advocacy

A Phone call changes 16 lives

It's a summer afternoon and 10 years old Varun is playing in a park with his friends. But, unlike an average 10 year old, he is not on a summer break. In fact, the burn marks on his body have a different story to tell.

The Story behind the marks

A story of his grim past, when he worked in a 12 hour shift with his two friends in a dingy loft at Appapada in Malad East. Their job was to make metal bangles using high voltage welding machines, sparks from which are responsible for the burn marks on his body. But, the children didn't care, for them; every bangle was a coupon for the promised one rupee per bangle. They never saw the money though.

Varun and his two friends were not the only ones in this condition. In fact, when CHILDLINE, a non-profit organization for child protection, conducted raids on Pathanwadi and Appapada in Malad East, they rescued 16 children from ten different work units. These raids were conducted on the May 15, along with the Borivili police and officials from the Labour Department.

A Call that changed lives

It all started with a phone call to CHILDLINE India Foundation's (CIF) call centre from a freelance reporter operating in Malad East. He informed the organisation about several work-units operating in the area, involving child labour.

To their rescue...

After receiving the call The CHILDLINE Intervention Unit (CIU) was mobilized to investigate the authenticity of the information. Team-members went under-cover to the bangle work-shops posing as whole sale dealers. After two weeks of investigations, ten units, each employing two to three children were identified for rescue.

CIU contacted the Labour Department on May 12 to arrange a raid in Malad. "On receiving the written application requesting for man power and vehicle, we directed the CHILDLINE team to the Additional Commissioned of Police R E Pawar for further assistance", said a Labour Department official.

With the guarantee of assistance from the Labour Department and Police, May 15 was decided as the day the raids would be carried out.

Minor Hiccups

"But on reaching the location on that day, we realized we were understaffed", said Kelvin Symon, senior program coordinator CIF. He further added, "Due to lack of resources and man power, it was impossible to conduct raids simultaneously in all the ten units as planned".

An official from the Labour Department defends, "Orally they had mentioned that they would raid ten to 15 sites but they didn't mention the number of sites in writing which led to a resource crunch on the day of the operation".

After the first raid, the police backed out, citing paper work as the reason. This would have put a premature end to the operation. CHILDLINE took up the matter with the Additional Commissioner of Police. "Mr. Pawar was very cooperative and dispatched a team from the Borivali Police station led by Assistant Police Inspector Marathe to carry out the rescue," recalls Symon.

Happy Ending

Sixteen children were rescued that day and an FIR was lodged by two complainants, a representative from the Labour Department, and one from CIF. The employers were booked under Sec 3 of the Child Labour Act, Sec 23 and Sec 26 of the Juvenile Justice Act and Sec 374 of the Indian Penal Code.

The rescued children were all boys, it is speculated that 11 of them were under 14 years of age, and five were under 18yrs. As to who these children are and how they landed up in the units will be cleared only after the Juvenile Court hearing on 28 May. As of now, on the basis of interviews with the children we can surmise that they are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Kolkata and Rajasthan.

Looking Ahead

At present they are at the Child Welfare Committee shelter at Chembur. However, their fate will be decided on May 28 when the court will decide whom they should go. Keeping in mind their educational and health needs will be taken care of. "Sometimes sending them back to their parents is not the best option, in some cases the children are sold by their own parents", says Symon.

For now, Varun and his friends are leading a happy life in a secure environment, getting used to a day filled with play and three proper meals a day in contrast to their past where even two meals were a luxury.


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