MUMBAI (REUTERS) - Police in the western Indian state of Gujarat have rescued over 70 children and arrested about 25 people in the first crackdown on one of the country's main artificial jewellery making centres with the operation ongoing.
A police spokesman said the operation started in the city of Rajkot after two children escaped from an employer about 10 days ago and reported abuse and harsh working conditions.
Balram Meena, a deputy commissioner of Rajkot police, said most of the rescued children were from poor families in West Bengal who were brought to the city by contractors promising to pay them a monthly salary of 6,000 rupees (S$121).
"The children we rescued worked day and night, about 10 to 12 of them shared a room, and in some cases lived where they worked," Meena told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that the children were only paid half the amount promised.
"The rescued children are leading us to more children. The crackdown will continue this week."
He said police were trying to ascertain the number of children working in this sector while the parents of the rescued youngsters were being contacted and the children sent home.
So far the police have arrested about 25 people, mainly employers and traffickers.
With about 700 firms, Rajkot is one of the biggest imitation jewellery hubs in India with annual turnover estimated at about US$8 billion.
Bracelets, earrings and other trinkets made in Rajkot are exported to Britain, Germany, the United States, Pakistan and the Middle East, according to Narendra Mehta, president of the Rajkot Imitation Jewellery Association.
Mehta said most of the work was based in homes and done by women who were paid by the number of pieces they worked on and earned between 5,000 to 7,000 rupees a month.
He said he had not been not been aware of children working in this sector as it was impossible to visit each household involved but the association will now start visiting manufacturing units.
"This is the first such crackdown and we called a meeting and announced that small children should not be employed," Mehta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.