Six bonded labourers including two children were rescued from a water treatment plant in Chennai, the district administration said. The rescued children are from Odisha. They were forced to work under inhuman conditions after their employees paid their parents in advance for taking them, said activists who helped the police in the raid.
Their parents were paid between Rs 4,000-16,000 to take them to Chennai, said child rights activists.
The boys were made to work at the water treatment plant, where strong chemicals are usually used to clean water, without any protective gear. Their hands and legs have scratch marks and bruises from the backbreaking work they had been doing.
Their employees are on the run and the authorities have invoked strict laws that seek to protect children and bonded labourers from exploitation.
In a statement, the district collector said cases have been filed under the Prevention of Bonded Labourers Act and Prevention of Child Labourers Act. The plant has been sealed.
The raid at the water treatment plant in Chennai comes at a time when the city is grappling with a severe water crisis in peak summer after lakes that give water to the southern city dried up.
More than 200 child labourers have been rescued in Tamil Nadu this year alone, from brick kilns and farmlands. In a recent rescue, a boy was united with his mother in Thanjavur, months after a moneylender took him away after his mother failed to repay Rs 60,000 that the family had borrowed for her husband's medical treatment, who eventually died.
Activists say it's important to pursue these cases to convict the perpetrators. The rescued children also need financial help from the government. Otherwise, they may fall into debt trap and become bonded labourers again, say activists.