Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Namma Metro work is indeed child's play

Namma Metro work is indeed child's play

Ambiguous law has helped contractors employ minors at the project sites, say child rights activists

Vaishalli Chandra. Bangalore



Children are being employed at Namma Metro sites in the city. But can that put Metro in trouble? May be not.
DNA visited two of the busiest Metro sites — MG Road and CMH road — and spotted young construction labourers who, however, insisted that they were 18 or above. "Mason ka kaam karte hain (I work as a mason)," said Mahov. When asked his age, pat came the reply, "Bees saal (20 years)."
Isn't he far too younger, probably in his early teens? He shook his head in disagreement and after a while said he is 18. He has been working at the site for one month now and hails from a village in Orrisa. Here to earn a livelihood, he said he has studied till standard VIII. This would mean that he is about 14 or so — not even 18.
Mahov earns Rs4,500 a month. He is not directly employed by the construction company, but through a private contractor.
Bhishun, another labourer claiming to be 18-years-old said that their work is to keep the rods in the shed. He added that nearly 50 friends of his have come from Jharkhand to work at the various metro sites here.
But Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) maintained that it does not employ children at its sites. "It is mentioned in the contract that no child will be employed," said BL Yashvant Chavan, chief engineer and PRO, BMRCL. On the sites, "a register is maintained that records the name and age of the person working", with on-site engineers and officials keeping a tab on these records. "No child is employed, as all workers are insured under the Workmen's Compensation Act," he said.
In April this year, a child was rescued from the RV Road Metro site. His case was heard by the Child Welfare Commission. "The employer paid a compensation," she said and added that this was after the employer denied that the child worked on their site. "In fact that child even worked in evening shifts," she observed.
When this case was broached upon, Chavan said, "He was not a child. It was proved." When inquired further, he said he wasn't aware of the rescued person's actual age, "May be 16 or so", but was certain he was an adult.
"The problem with officials is that when it comes to employment they don't see anything. Once they start treating these children as their own will they see the distinction," said Meera.
"The child labour situation in the city is bad. There are children in construction sites and darshinis," said Meenakshi of the Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA). "There is a grey area in the law because at one time they said it was okay," says Meera, referring to the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000. "According to the rule, vocational training is allowed after completion of SSLC. This means that the child has to be 16," she said, wondering when an 18-year-old is a child, how 14 can be considered a suitable age to work.

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