A 12-year-old girl who died more than halfway on her 100km journey while trying to get back to her home has sparked a probe into the illegal practice of child labour in India, an official said on Tuesday.
Tens of millions of labourers across India have embarked on long journeys home by foot since the government last month imposed a lockdown, which has since been extended until May 03.
Jamlo Madkam died of dehydration and exhaustion on Saturday as she walked from a chili field towards her village in Chattisgarh state, according to state official Hemendra Bhuarya.
“This is a clear case of child labour and we are looking for the contractor who took the girl to work,” Bhuarya, who is heading the investigation, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We are also trying to understand if the parents were given any advance by the contractor and the circumstances under which they sent her to work,” said Bhuarya.
The state government had awarded 100,000 rupees (US$1,300) compensation to Madkam’s parents and would step up measures to monitor and tackle child labour and trafficking, Bhuarya added.
K.D. Kunjam, the top bureaucrat in the Bijapur district of the girl’s home state of Chhattisgarh, said the child was working as a farmhand in southern Telangana state and was a part of a group of twelve that decided to make the journey home.
“She had walked around 60-70 kilometres (km) and their village was around 20 km from the place where she died,” Kunjam told Reuters.
They trekked through hills and forests in baking heat but she started complaining of stomach pain and breathlessness by the fourth day, he said.
Critics have slammed the state and federal governments’ failure to address the concerns of migrant workers, even as they rushed to ferry Indians stranded abroad and students with mostly middle class backgrounds stuck in western Rajasthan state.
Kunjam said he had been urging workers not to make the long journeys and stay where they were till the lockout ended, despite calls by jobless migrant workers to allow travel to their homes as they have run out of money for food and shelter.
The United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates there are about 10 million workers aged 5-14 in India.
Indian labor laws ban the employment of anyone under the age of 15 but children are permitted to support family businesses outside of school hours. This provision is widely exploited by employers and human traffickers, child rights activists say.
India has reported at least 17,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 500 deaths. The lockdown has left tens of millions of informal workers without cash or food, and fearful that bureaucracy will hinder their access to government assistance.
Many families will instead resort to taking out loans at high interest rates in order to survive, while others will fall deeper into debt and end up trapped in bonded labour – India’s most prevalent form of modern slavery – according to activists. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)