Rescuing Children from India’s Sweatshops

India sweatshops

Children at Mukti Ashram, a center for exploited children run by CRS partner Bachpan Bachao Andolan. At the ashram, children receive counseling and care before being reunited with their families. Photo courtesy of Bachpan Bachao Andolan

Salim, now 11, was about 8 when he ran away from his rural home in India. His father had started beating him, and there wasn’t money for school. A man from his village assured Salim he could find him a good job-so he went.

But like thousands of India’s children, Salim ended up in a sweatshop-in this case, a zari (embroidery) factory making items for foreigners. Salim would start at eight in the morning and worked late, sometimes until midnight, in a dingy room without windows. He lived and ate in the factory, and at night he slept along with other children on floor. His bosses beat him and scolded him for making minor mistakes. As a “trainee,” Salim received 50 rupees-one dollar-a week.

Salim’s servitude lasted two years. But when he was ten, a Catholic Relief Services partner, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), rescued him and hundreds of other childrenworking in factories. Following leads to find sweatshops and raid them, BBA workers put themselves in harm’s way to save children; in one case this year, they were beaten during a raid.

BBA brought Salim to a rehabilitation center for trafficked children, providing the exhausted boy with good food, a safe place to sleep, and counseling. “After five days, he could sleep and eat well,” says his case worker. As Salim became less fearful and more confident, he began learning the basics of Hindi and math. Meanwhile, BBA worked to figure out a way he could be reunited with his family–yet safe and cared for.

At the center, Salim became enthusiastic about education, saying he wants to become a teacher. With the 18-hour factory days behind him, he also had time for every child’s right: play. On the cricket field, Salim could be a child again.

Compiled by Laura Sheahen based on reports from the field.

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