Tears tracing lines of dirt on his face, six-year-old Nepali boy Deepak cries while crouching on a pavement to scrub motorbikes, his job for nine hours a day, six days a week.
He is one of millions of children driven into labour by poverty in a country where the unpopular government is seen as too corrupt and ineffective to care for its citizens, even the young and helpless.
“I want to study and become a doctor but we don’t have any money,” said Deepak, who helps his family make ends meet.
Rising food and fuel prices and a struggling economy have forced many families to send their children to search for work instead of to the classroom.”From the bottom of my heart, I want to send my son to school but we have so many expenses … We struggle to put food on our table”, said Deepak’s mother, Rajkumari, who also has a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.Her husband, Subodh, a street barber, earns only 7,500 rupees a month, not enough to support the family.”He’s learning to work and he also earns around 300-400 rupees. So what’s wrong in that. We are poor,” said the boy.
Economic pressures are forcing young nepalis, like teenager manisha and her three brothers, to leave home in search of work.They now live in a tiny room above a grimy tea shop where they toil all day in India’s biggest city and commercial hub of Mumbai.”I have so many dishes to wash. When I get tired the men serving tea become very angry with me. They swear and shout,” said Manisha.
Others, like 11-year-old labourer Kashif, are subjected to harsher treatment.”If he makes a mistake I’ll hit him,” said his 19-year-old supervisor, Dilip Gavas, who said he had endured the same hardship as a child labourer.
With little government protection, children keep falling into the same vicious circle of exploitation.
“It is all very damaging for a child’s psychology,” said Anuradha Nagar, executive director at Social Innovations, a human rights advocacy group.”Once you are abused, you grow up with that abuse.”
Twelve-year-old Kukiya, the eldest of three orphans, ran away from his first boss. He could not take the verbal and physical abuse.But his new work, scraping rust all day for 25 rupees at a mechanics shop to feed his sisters, is still gruelling.”I don’t see any other life for myself. What can I do. I’m helpless. The government is doing nothing for us,” said the boy, wearing soiled clothing and open, oversized sandals.
“All I ask of them is to assist me in my helpless state. To take it away.”