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World Day Against Child Labour: How IPS Mahesh Bhagwat Has Been Eradicating the Problem

1995 batch IPS officer Mahesh Bhagwat successfully implemented ‘Operation Smile’ and rescued thousands of children from bonded slavery while working as Commissioner of Police Rachakonda (2016 to 2022), and has continued the cause after taking charge as ADG CID. He has opened worksite schools for children rescued from brick kilns to receive an education, in coordination with NGO Aid et Action, district administration, and Brick Kiln Owners Association. Indian Masterminds special feature on World Day Against Child Labour.
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Observed on June 12, World Day Against Child Labour is intended to catalyze the growing worldwide movement against child labour. Emphasizing the link between social justice and child labour, the slogan for this year is – ‘Social Justice for All. End Child Labour!’

Several of our bureaucrats are working on this issue, and one stands out for not only rescuing and releasing bonded child labourers but also providing them with an excellent education and a better living!

The officer is none other than IPS officer Mahesh Bhagwat, who is currently serving as the Additional Director General of Police, CID in Telangana, and has truly brought a lot of smiles to the faces of young children through his project, ‘Operation Smile.’ Mr Bhagwat is the recipient of the Trafficking in Person Report Hero Award 2017 of the US Department of State, and many other laurels. 

Indian Masterminds followed up with him on his initiative to know how many more children he has saved from child labour and the kind of life they are living now.

OPERATION SMILE

To give you a background, ‘Operation Smile VIII’ is a project initiated by the Government of India’s Ministry of Home Affairs. Every year in January and July, this project is undertaken to rescue child labourers from hazardous industries and look for missing children. Telangana Police is seriously implementing Operation Smile under the supervision of its Women Safety Wing. 

They look to rescue children from the underprivileged sections of society, who have fallen prey to child labour and trafficking and are forced to work as labourers and waiters, among others, due to their situation. To trace missing children, the facial recognition app called ‘Darpan’ is also used by Telangana Police. 

“Our main focus is to rescue lost children caught up in exploitative labour. This project is focused on children’s education and helps them lead a better life. The labour and revenue departments, along with civil society organisations, are working together to make it successful,” shared Mr. Bhagwat, who’s also the former Commissioner of Police in Rachakonda, which is the eastern part of Hyderabad city of the state.

REUNITING THEM WITH FAMILIES

Under Mr Bhagwat, the Rachakonda Commissionerate alone rescued 350 children of Odisha from the brick kiln industry in January 2017. The police raided factories, brick kilns, and other areas where child labour is in high demand, and rescued the kids from there.

The majority of these young children were from Orissa, where the rest of their family resides. This observation enabled the senior IPS officer to construct Odia medium schools for the children where they could receive an education from January to May, before returning to their homes.

“Within six months, these worksite schools educated over 300 students. The schools assisted them in advancing their studies so that they do not have to face difficulties when they return home and begin attending regular schools,” Mr. Bhagwat told Indian Masterminds.

A RAY OF HOPE

Mr. Bhagwat and his team have been able to rescue vulnerable children from train stations, bus stops, religious locations, traffic crossroads, mechanical stores, shops, tea stalls and sidewalks since the operation’s inception.

So far, the officer has saved over 7000 children, and the number grows with each semester. Until the children can return home, they attend worksite schools where teachers are brought from Odisha and Maharashtra with the support of NGOs. The children are also given midday meals and study materials, and their uniforms are paid for by the brick kiln owners.

ENSURING THEIR BRIGHT FUTURE

Once the children are pulled out of the mush, Mr. Bhagwat makes sure they don’t return to their old lives. He does so by providing them good education till they return home, and by keeping tabs on them.

As he says, “Every citizen of India has the right to education. I don’t want any kid to grow faster than their age and shoulder the responsibilities of their family rather than getting the right education. I will always make sure that these young children go to schools and gain proper education so that they could build a good future for themselves.”

The officer makes sure to file credible Child Labour Act and Indian Penal Code charges against individuals involved in child trafficking, in addition to child slavery.

Rachakonda Police received the Civil and Human Rights Award in 2017 from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, United States of America, for the project.

Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, a social reformer who campaigns against child labour in India and supports the universal right to education, also praised the worksite school model initiative immensely.

Mr Bhagwat continues his crusade against bonded and child labour as CID chief of Telangana. In 23 operations, he rescued 900 bonded labourers with children working in the hazardous brick kiln industry, with the help of CID local units and concerned district police, revenue, labour, and NGO teams, and safely repatriated them back to their native districts in Odisha. These noble efforts were applauded by all.


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