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Kids Pick Human Bones For A Living
By: RSS/News FeedsHungZai Team

At the busiest crematorium in this Tamil Nadu temple town in southern India, the quiet work of a group of little boys is more heart-rending than the wails of bereaved relatives.

About 10 boys visit the crematorium at Thathaneri on the banks of the Vaigai river and rummage through the heap of hot ashes of dead bodies with their small bare hands to pick bones.

As wages for this unsavoury work, the vettiyans or undertakers allow the children to eat the rice and sweets offered by relatives to the deceased. If the undertakers are generous, the children might go back home with Rs 20 each. The ashes and bones collected by these children are handed over to the relatives of the dead for the ritual of immersing them in the sea or holy rivers.

This practice had gone on unnoticed until the district administration swooped down on the crematorium last Wednesday following a media report. Inspectors of the district’s labour department have so far rescued four boys who used to work in the crematorium and put them back in schools.

Madurai District Collector S S Jawahar told IANS: “We are really pained to see little boys doing this sort of work and we have initiated immediate action.”

The District Collector has also directed all grassroots officials to look into whether this “painful form of child labour” is prevalent across the Madurai district.

However, initial reports suggest that the practice is confined only to the Thathaneri crematorium, which is the busiest in the city with no less than 20 bodies arriving there everyday.

In most villages, boys are not allowed to enter the crematorium and parents don’t allow their children to eat the food offered to the dead. Social workers say the traditional belief is that not even street dogs sniff at the offerings made to the dead and the food is meant only for crows.

But poverty and the lack of parental care forced the boys, aged between eight and 15, to work at the Thathaneri crematorium, officials said.

The undertakers found it easy to lure orphans and children of poor agricultural labourers into the job with a handful of rice and a measly amount of money.

Of the four boys rescued by the administration, two are from the same family. Their father is a coolie and has no wherewithal to adequately feed them. In fact, these two boys used to go to school and had enrolled for the mid-day meal scheme. However, the offerings of sweets, rice and money were more attractive. The other two boys were school dropouts.

Though Madurai is seen as the land of temples and the seat of learning in Tamil Nadu, it is plagued by social evils like child labour, female infanticide and untouchability.

A decade ago, a survey on child labour carried out by the State’s labour department showed that the Madurai district had one of the highest numbers of child labourers — mostly working in brick kilns, farms and weaving centres.

“I have launched a concerted campaign against such unhealthy practices targeting children. Everywhere I go I tell people that children are our true assets,” Jawahar said.

But evidently the government and social workers have a long way to go in taking care of Madurai’s children

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