Uma Sudhir, NDTV.COM
Sunday, August 27, 2006 (Mantada village):
The report became the basis for an FIR lodged by the government the very next day.
The authorities zeroed in on Idli Appanna who had admitted on camera to NDTV that he was a broker.
In less than four weeks, 67 children were rescued and search teams are still looking for at least 26 more children who are missing from the village.
"We booked cases against 18 brokers under the Bonded Labour Act. We used them to trace out children sent to Vijayawada, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai. One child was sent to the US also," said Naveen Mittal, Collector, Krishna District.
What unfolded was that Mantada was supplying not just its own children. Children were brought here from Viziangaram, Srikakulam and East Godavari district to be handed over to people who usually arrived in cars and paid between Rs 8000 and Rs 12000 as advance for the child.
The broker got up to Rs 1500, and the child was taken away on a one-year contract to an unknown destination.
Like little Seetha and Ramu, siblings from Chirala in Guntur district were sold at Mantada to separate parties because the children say their parents owed moneylenders much more than they could repay.
"We have also taken action against employers under the Bonded Labour Act. We think if the link between employers and the village is cut down, there will be enough fear among prospective employers employing children as domestic labour in their homes," said Mittal.
The fear of being caught employing a child was probably what prompted an employer in Vijayawada to put 11-year-old Naga Durga on a train to nowhere. The child was luckily found in Assam by Childline, a social service helpline.
"They sent me away with Gowri to some other place," said Nagadurga, formerly child labourer.
At the sub-divisional magistrate's court, both brokers and parents, stonewall questions, apparently trying to hide information.
But children, like Anjali, when coaxed, point out the brokers who found buyers for them and also unwittingly name friends who were similarly sold.
That's how the official list of rescued and missing children became so long.
"We can take action against everybody. There is three years imprisonment is under the Act. This is the first time we are filing this type of case in the district," said Venkata Rao, Sub-divisional magistrate.
"For 30 years, this has been our livelihood. Not just for getting money, even just for survival, for just eating, we did it for several years because our wage earnings are very low," said Konda, a broker.
At the new school started by the National Child Labour Project in the village, behind the shy smiles was perhaps some apprehension about new uncertainties, but also the hope that new dreams may now be possible.
"They would pay money to my parents and take me away. I never went to school. I always wanted to go to school and I will go now," said Mindu Ramana, a rescued child
"I did not like it there, away from my parents. I would feel very lonely and would cry often," said Appayyamma, another rescued child.
After a house-to house survey, a master database has now been created of all the children between five and 16 in the village.
The administration has promised non-stop surveillance at least for the next two years to ensure Mantada does not make headlines for the wrong reasons again.