According to the National Census 2011, there are over 33 million children engaged in child labor in India in the age group of 6 to 18 years. An estimated 80% of child laborers are concentrated in rural areas.
Child labor involves different activities such as agriculture, manufacturing, mining and domestic service (i.e prostitution).
As we all know that children are forced into child labor mainly because of poverty and the Covid-19 pandemic has likely pushed more children into child labor.
A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF warns that 9 million additional children are at the risk of being pushed into child labor by the end of 2022 globally, as a result of the pandemic.
Khem Lal Khaterji was one of the victims of child labor in India. Khem Lal was forced to break coal and pack mud into brick moulds at the age of six.
He used to work for 18 hours a day and still struggled to get even two meals a day.
His parents were both construction site workers and were often sold from one contractor to another. Later, they were sold to a contractor in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, and as his father was in debt, they could not buy their freedom.
They had no ration cards, no access to clean drinking water and not even a proper roof over their heads.
As they were exposed to the smoke and dust on a daily basis, Khem Lal’s father contracted cholera. While the contractor agreed to help and extended financial help, this led them into further debt.
At 13, Khem Lal began skipping work to attend school but soon the contractor came to know. Khem Lal was subjected to torture by the contractor.
The contractor heated up a large spoon and stuck it on his cheek. Khem Lal was howling in pain begging the contractor to let him go. But he didn’t.
Khem Lal was malnourished and almost always exhausted. However, later an NGO in the area rescued them.
They were sent back to their village and his father used the relief funds to buy a toffee making machine, while Khem Lal worked hard and made it to college.
He completed his graduation and recently obtained his Masters in Social Work degree from Kalinga University.
Khem Lal then decided to help other child laborers. In 2020, he along with a group of survivors like himself got together to form an organisation called SAANS (Shramik Adhikar Aur Nyaya Sangathan). During the lockdown, he rescued 12 laborers from a brick factory in Pathankot, Punjab.
Khem Lal is now working closely with the government to draft an anti-trafficking bill and working towards the betterment of other children in society.