Noida: Every 100metres or so along a busy expressway on the outskirts of New Delhi, you’ll find a child selling corn—quite possibly a child too young to be working legally.
Twelve-year-old Prakash is one of them. Lolling amid the discarded husks from earlier sales, he doesn’t seem bothered by the 40 degrees Celsius heat or the buzzing flies. “We all work together and live together," he says, gesturing toward 15 or so other boys working on the highway.
Each is dropped off by their employer every morning with a sack full of boiled corn. They spend their days trying to flag down drivers. They don’t leave until their sacks are empty, sometimes 12 hours later.
Are all as young as Prakash? There’s no way to be sure. Each seems to change their age with each answer, often forgetting the number they previously mentioned. Most are careful, however, to use a number above 14—the legal age in India to work in non-family enterprises. Young men, whom the boys claim are their elder brothers, patrol the highway on motorcycles, ensuring business runs smoothly. They also tell them not to speak to visiting journalists.
Most comply, anxious to keep jobs that pay about $80 per month—far more than they could earn back home. All the boys have moved to Noida, southeast of New Delhi, from rural villages in search of work.
On Monday, the World Day Against Child Labour, the International Labour Organization said 168 million children are labourers, or about one in nine children overall.
India, in its 2011 census, estimated the country had 8.3 million child labourers. Uttar Pradesh state, where Noida is located, alone accounted for 1.8 million of that total. UNICEF says child labour has declined overall in India but its urban areas have seen an increase.
Meanwhile, Prakash and the other boys are still selling their corn late in the afternoon. Their sacks are not yet empty.