• Tears roll down the face of a child labourer as he sits inside a police station after he was rescued during a joint operation by police and a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in New Delhi June 22, 2009 (Representational image).Reuters file
  • Bonded child labourers work inside a small-scale "zari" (thread made from wire) factory before they were rescued during a joint operation conducted by police and a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in New Delhi December 10, 2009 (representational image).Reuters file

"Kabali" fever may have gripped Tamil Nadu, aided by media hype and crazy Rajini fans, but the state has an underbelly to it in the form of high incidence of bonded labour. The state tops of the list of bonded labourers rescued.

In a grim reminder of the problem, the Central government came out with statistics of rescued bonded labourers, proving that exploitation of people, including children, has not stopped despite laws strictly prohibiting them. 

The state-wise details of bonded labourers rescued and rehabilitated were given in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday during the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament. 

A staggering 2.82 lakh bonded labourers were rescued by various state governments, according to the statistics as of March 31, 2016. Ironically, the maximum number of cases were reported by states that are considered relatively more developed in comparison to others.

Tamil Nadu topped the list with 65,573 labourers rescued, followed by Karnataka at 58,348 and Odisha at 47,313 labourers. Andra Pradesh with 31,687 labourers and Uttar Pradesh at 37,788 labourers were the other two states that reported a high figure, according to a statement tabled by Bandaru Dattatreya, the Minister of State (IC) for Labour and Employment, in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha. 

"The root of the problem lies in the social customs and economic compulsions," the minister said.

Here is the full list placed in Parliament:

bonded labour labourer exploitation child labour child labour act satyarthi nobel list parliament minister rajya sabha
PIB India

There is a government scheme to rehabilitate rescued bonded labourers, wherein they are paid compensation, depending on their age and gender. The assistance is Rs. 1 lakh per male adult and double the amount for women and children, while for transgenders, women and children rescued from "ostensible sexual exploitation", the amount paid is Rs. 3 lakh.

The financial assistance is given under the Central Sector Scheme for Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourer, 2016, amended two months ago.

Ironically, the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the Child Labour Prohibition Bill, introduced by the Congress-led UPA government in 2012. The amendments to the Bill prohibit a complete ban on employing children below the age of 14 years, but makes exceptions for minors to work in family-owned businesses. Besides, child artists working in advertisements, films, television serials, similar entertainment or sports activities, except those working in circus, will be allowed to work, subject to conditions. 

The Bill will be sent to the Lok Sabha after which it will come into force. 

The main objection to the Bill is with regard to the exemption for employing minors in family-run enterprises and the trimmed list of "hazardous" occupations where child workers can't be employed. There is a fear that this leaves the scope for employing children in industries such as carpet, leather, slaughter houses, bidi making and zari, using the provision of "helping" the family.