It was somewhere during the Moughal period that the art of Embroidery came to India. Since then it has become major part of the Indian fashion Industry. Ladies suits with embroidery on it have always remained the first choice amongst the women of this country. Delhi, Mumbai U.P., Haryana, Punjab, Karnataka etc. are some important places where this art is flourishing. Over the period of time with its rising demands, India has become a major exporter of embroidery made products to US, UK Germany France, Australia and some gulf country. The annual export of this industry is around Rs 300 Crore.
Child Labour in Zari Industry
India has the largest number of working children in the world. It is estimated that 60 to 115 million children are working in India. Most or all of these children are working under some form of compulsion, whether from their parents, from the expectations attached to their caste, or from simple economic necessity. At least fifteen million of them, however, are workings as virtual slaves. These are the bonded child laborers of India.
"Bonded child labor" refers to the phenomenon of children working in From( can be written as- phenomenon of working children from ) picking rags, building bricks, working in the domestic households, rolling beedi (cigarette) leaves,manufacturing firecrackers to weaving carpet in looms and in zari (embroidery) manufacturing units. Conservative reports suggest that there are about 1 lakh child labourers in embroidery and zari sweatshops in Delhi and nearly the same numbers in Mumbai and elsewhere.
How children get Trapped
Thousands of children slog in sweatshops like the Zari units in Delhi, mostly trafficked from Bihar and neighboring states. Most parents are conned by traffickers who promise that the children would lead a better life with opportunities for education in the cities. Middlemen approach illiterate and vulnerable parents in villages in poor states like Bihar or west Bengal and orissa in north India with an offer in the guise of providing education and training to the children to learn embroidery and get employment so that their children can earn as much as 100 rupees a day to trap the poor and gullible parents. But the reality is totally different.
Poverty coupled with illiteracy contributes to trafficking of young children and, in turn, bonded labor. But it is not the only cause. The major reasons for bonded labor are the lack of access to credit, the absence of concerted social welfare schemes; inaccessible, low quality and discriminatory schools; non-implementation of minimum wages for adults; adult unemployment; and historical and economic relationships based on the hierarchy of caste and other discriminating factors. A normal workday is 16 hours long, but during the peak season it stretches to 18 hours. While many work seven days a week round the year, some get a day off every two weeks. Their average monthly income ranges from Rs.50 to Rs.250. that worker are forced to keep borrowing from their employers, who ensure that the loans are never off the books, even though the children's labor has paid them many times over.
The children suffer from innumerable health problems ranging from simple injuries to spinal disorders and eye problems. The study reveals that there are no proper medical facilities available for the children.
Besides being paid low wages, children can be monitored and exploited easily. Also, children tend to remain with the master weavers for longer periods than adults. The reasons being trotted out to justify the employment of children are that "they learn a skill" and that "their fingers are nimble enough to make small, intricate designs faster than adults". Some parents, particularly from communities that are traditionally not weavers, believe that their children will learn a skill if they are sent to a "task master" at a tender age. But studies have proved that these beliefs are wrong.
Zari Campaign by Bachpan Bachao Andolan
In 2003, BBA first came across the problem of child labour working in the zari (embroidery)factories in the centre of power, the capital - New Delhi. A basic survey was conducted in potential areas the research was conducted by some professionals who during there course of visit to the identified areas found 5000-7000 embroidery units functioning in Delhi., with each unit employing around 25-30 children. Moreover, most of the children working in these embroidery units are working as slaves or bonded labor with salaries ranging from nothing at all to rupees 300 per month.
Zari workers are split into shagirds (apprentices), karigars and owners. Most of the young boys are shagirds. In addition to doing some basic embroidery, a shagird does the cleaning and washing of clothes and some cooking for the unit. For this he is paid about Rs.50 a month. Eventually he becomes a karigar.
Most of the embroidery work is carried out for the big export houses for clothes, handicrafts, etc. to be exported all over the world. It is critical to identify the links with the export houses that buy these embroidered products and to study the wage and production system used by them to know and understand the demand and supply routes.
The first ever raid was conducted in a zari factory in New Delhi and 7 children were rescued in September 2003. It is most appalling that Zari units which take contracts from fashion houses are involved in exploitation and employment of children, a gross violation of a child’s basic human right, albeit in third parties processes. For an organisation that has for years tried to comply with labour standards and international conventions, this was absolutely deplorable.
The initial raid led to a series of complaints being filed by the BBA with the Sub Divisional Magistrate (who has the constitutional power to release the children) and also with the local Labor Commissioner’s office. The second raid was organized in June 2004 releasing 17 children from Govind puri extension in south Delhi. This raid exposed the sordid tale of children working in dismal conditions of Zari units.
Hari (name changed to protect identity), an 8-year-old boy originally from Bihar, was forced to work for 12- 13 hours everyday in 10 feet by 10 feet basement for no salary. When the lock of his factory was broken by the BBA activists and the labor department officials (he was rescued on 5th June, 2004 along with 11 other children of the same fate), he was shaven from head to toe and was working wearing only underwear. When asked why he was like that he said that it was because of the unbearable heat (New Delhi’s average temp. in June is more than 42’c) and there was no fan or any other means of escaping the heat.
The story of exploitation and abuse in the heart of the nation did little to wake up the govt. However after months of regular follow up, the local govt. finally yielded and the series of raids were conducted by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Government departments and other NGOs in Delhi and Mumbai. These raids resulted in rescuing 1805 children from Zari industry from September 2004 to June 6, 2006.
Work towards child labour free Nation
The world is not fit for these millions of children of lesser gods who are sold and bought like animals, confined to the mines and brick kilns as slaves, locked in the factories and houses, stitching soccer balls, polishing gems, carving wood, making beautiful zari work dresses, knotting carpets, working alongside the glass furnaces, trafficked for domestic labor, or for those who are victims of armed conflicts, ethnic violence and even the victims of development related displacement.
Freedom and learning are the two birthrights of every human being. Any activity that takes away these rights is a crime against nature and humanity. The endeavors of any society should be to offer them opportunities for their education, growth and development. Ideally Children in there formative stage should not be exposed to any physically and mentally rigorous activity that retards their natural growth. Let us come together by committing ourselves not in words but in action to end child slavery forever.
Appeal to Fashion Designer
Sub: Serious concern about fashion Industry and the use of child labour
Dear Sir / Madam
Greetings from Bachpan Bachao Andolan!
14 years old Saimul was working for the last 6 years in one of the raided Zari units. Youngest among 4 siblings, Saimul was trafficked from West Bengal by an agent along with his brother to Delhi. For 6 years he did not meet his parents. For working tirelessly from 9 a.m. in the morning to 1 a.m. past midnight, Saimul’s earning was a paltry Rs.600 a year. The plight of young children slaving in dilapidated ill-lit, ill-ventilated and cramped rooms sewing expensive brocaded zari saris and suits with their fragile hands is not unknown to Bachpan Bachao Andolan.
Over the last year, Bachpan Bachao Andolan has in collaboration with the labour department, police and other NGOs, rescued over 1200 child labourers from the illegal embroidery and zari Sweatshops scattered in New Delhi. We have made safe repatriation and are working hard for follow-up on rehabilitation for these children.
It is most appalling that Zari units which take contracts from fashion houses are involved in exploitation and employment of children, a gross violation of a child’s basic human right, albeit in third parties processes. For an organisation that has for years tried to comply with labour standards and international conventions, this is absolutely deplorable.
There are about 1 lakh child labourers in embroidery and zari sweatshops in Delhi and nearly the same numbers in Mumbai and elsewhere. Rough estimates show that there might be 5000-7000 embroidery units functioning in Delhi, with each unit employing around 25-30 children. Most of the children working in embroidery and zari workshops are trafficked from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. The children, who had been rescued through our raid and rescue operations, reported that they got as little as Rs. 20-30 a month and worked for more than 12-14 hours in small crowded rooms with poor lighting and ventilation. As a result many had eye problems/infections and skin allergies.
As architect of the first social labelling initiative “Rugmark” child labour free rugs, Bachpan Bachao Andolan and its partners led the first international consumer awareness campaign, particulary in Europe and USA. The first social labelling on any child labour free product, Rugmark, is a concrete example our strategy in tapping the consumers’ consciousness and in promoting ethical trading practices by corporate and industry. Formation of Rugmark and the subsequent awareness campaign led to the release of thousands of child and bonded labourers from carpet weaving. Now Rugmark is successfully functioning in India, Nepal and Pakistan as well as in Germany, USA, UK and Canada.
Bachpan Bachao Andolan is also part of the office Task Force on Labour by Delhi Government constituting various administrative agencies and civil society organisations, which has been initiated to check child labour (with focus on child labour in embroidery and zari industry), bonded labour and the application of labour laws and conventions in Delhi. On behalf of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, we urge you to take serious note of the menace of child labour and ensure that there is no illegal child labour engaged in promotion of goods and products made by your fashion house .We would also highly recommend you to initiate an initial research and monitoring exercise on this issue to ensure that all goods that are produced by you are “child labour free” goods
We hope and look forward to your prompt and urgent cooperation on the concern of child labour and help Bachpan Bachao Andolan in building a better future for thousands of children engaged in Zari Units of Delhi .
R S Chaurasia
Response from Fashion Industry
Dear R S Chaurasia,
Please be advised that we are in full support of your cause.
We here at the House of Valaya are proud to inform you that
we share the same sentiments in reference to child labour and
neither practice or tolerate such atrocity.
House of Valaya