From slavery to sanity, a tale of three kids

Three minor children including two girls who were kidnapped and employed as child labourers in Ponnampet, Kodagu district, were rescued by Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) and a local based voluntary organisation, Odanadi, with the assistance of the police.

Two minor girls, Shalini (8) and Priyadarshini (12), from a poor Dalit family residing at Paduvarahalli, were allegedly kidnapped by a school teacher, Ms Swaroopa, her accomplice, jeep driver Ayanna, and then sold to a rich family residing at Ponnampet in Kodagu district around two years ago.

Shalini and Priyadarshini were kidnapped while they were on their way to school located at Vani Vilas Mohalla.

Search attempts by parents went in vain despite a complaint with Jayalakshmipuram police station.

According to one of the girls, Shalini, was forced to work from morning 5 am till 10 pm in the night, in addition to being involved in massaging elders. She was forced to sleep on a gunny bag, with another gunny bag serving as a blanket. She was also offered only two meals a day.

The ill treatment of one of the girls had gone to the extent of forcing them to dispose off the waste of elderly men of the family and if they refused to do it, the owners would spray pepper powder on their eyes and lips, in addition to burning their palms and legs with fire sticks and scratching their lips with paddy corns, according to Shalini.

The cruel employers had even told the girls that their parents were dead. With this, the girls lost all hopes of rejoining family, but never abandoned their efforts. They used to send messages with coffee estate labourers, who used to visit their houses in Mysore often.

They eventually succeeded in reaching the message to the family through an unidentified person. In turn, their mother, Jayaputhri, who is an employee in the postal department, in Mysore, approached Odanadi for help. Odanadi helped rescue the girls from the employers and with the help of the police and brought them to Mysore.

While Odanadi activists were involved in rescue of the girls, they chanced to come across another child labourer, Manju (12), and rescued him too.

According to Manju, he was kidnapped in a jeep about five years ago from the Mysore bus stand and employed as a child labourer for a family residing at Ponnampet. According to the boy, he was also forced to work not only in the house, but even in fields. ''The employer had threatened to shoot me if any attempts were made to escape,`` he said.

Ms Ambuja, mother of Manju, who was present at the press conference, along with the girls and their mother Jayaputri, said she had searched for her son in many places in the state, including neighbouring Tamil Nadu, but in vain. She said she had even lodged a complaint with police, but that too had not yielded result. ''Left with no option, I used to sit near churches and cry hours together daily. It was the order of the day,``she said.

Speaking to reporters, Odanadi convenor Stanley said this incident was only a ''tip of the iceberg`` as lakhs of child labourers were employed, particularly in Kodagu and South Kanara districts.

Parashuram, another convenor of Odanadi, recalled pressures brought by a retired DCP for the release of the culprits, Swaroopa and Ayanna, who were arrested.

He congratulated the inspector of Ponnampet police station for not yielding to the pressures and sticking to the cause of rescuing the girls.

CACL national convenor Joy Malikal has urged the government to ban child labour.

The government with utmost priority should initiate a survey to trace child labourers working in plantations and estates in Virajapet, Madikeri and other places in the State, he said. The government should initiate legal action against violators.

In the wake of child labour showing an increasing tendency in the country as well as in the State, the CACL had decided to approach the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in this regard, he added.

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