Police and child advocates broke padlocks and busted down doors in a surprise raid of a sweatshop in India, only to find a group of children imprisoned who had been forced to make Christmas decorations.
The children, as young as 8 years old, were kept in rooms approximately six feet by six feet and had been forced to work up to 19-hour days making the decorations, which advocates believe may have been intended to be sold on the cheap in the United States.
Human rights group Global March for Children led the raid, but also got help from former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who now serves as the United Nations special envoy for global education.
The 14 children who were freed are now in the process of being reunited with their families, who are scattered across India.
Brown released video to ABC News and Yahoo! News revealing what he says were the illegal conditions in which the children in Delhi were discovered.
"There is no parent in the world who would ever want their child to be subjected to conditions that you see in these films of children in dingy basements, without air, without food, without proper care, being forced into child labor for all these hours of the day. I think every parent who sees these films will want this practice brought to an end as quickly as possible."
Child advocates say American consumers would likely never know the origin of goods made with child labor, which Brown says has become a global epidemic that needs to be solved.
In a push to garner more attention on the issue worldwide, Brown’s office released a new report today, "Child Labour and Educational Disadvantage – Breaking the Link, Building Opportunity," which says 91 million children in the global workforce are younger than 12 years old.
In the case of the children rescued in Delhi, he says they were both injured and scared.
"Some of them are lacerated because they’re working with glass. And we found these children in this basement. They were not being paid,” he said. “They had been trafficked themselves. And they were making these Christmas decorations that were being sold in our shops and our web sites in the West."
Priyanke Ribhu of Global March says many children in India are often lured away from their parents by gangmasters who befriend their parents in the remote villages where they live. The gangmasters reportedly promise parents their kids will be taken to a better place where they will be provided a real education and many great opportunities they could not receive in their villages. Parents are also often told the children will be able to send money back home to help their families.
Far too often, Ribhu says, the children simply end up locked away behind padlocks only to work 17-,18-, even 19-hour days with no one to help them. Ribhu says holiday decorations similar to those discovered in the recent raid can be found on eBay and in other marketplaces online or in stores.
In addition, she says, the items are often sold off into a sophisticated network of suppliers that make it nearly impossible for retailers or consumers to know whether the goods they are purchasing have been made by child labor.
Ribhu warns, however, there are some tell-tale warning signs American consumers can be on the lookout for if they wish to avoid purchasing products made with child labor. First, she says, if the holiday decorations you are purchasing are not labeled with the country they are made in you might want to be concerned. Next, she says if they have an unusually low price and are marked as "hand made" it is another red flag.
Ribhu also warns to be cautious when examining "hand made" items that are also marked as being made in India.
While child labor was largely outlawed in the United States following the industrial revolution more than 100 years ago, Brown told ABC News and Yahoo! News that India has yet to ban child labor itself. He says currently, the country only has a ban on hazardous working conditions, but he wants to pressure the government to immediately take action to protect children there.
"I want the pressure on these employers, the gangmasters, the slave employers. But I also want the pressure on governments so they make sure the police are there telling employers that if they are caught hiring child laborers, they will be prosecuted," he said.
Consequently, Brown is pushing the Indian Parliament to immediately pass something called the Child and Adolescent Labour Abolition Bill, which would ban all forms of child labor for children younger than 14 years old in India. Through his role with the United Nations, Brown also plans to deliver a petition to the Parliament calling for the passage of the bill.
"One of the things I want to see happen in the next few days, is the Indian Parliament take the action that is necessary to outlaw all forms of child labor, but at the moment, thousands of children are being trafficked, thousands of children are being sold into what is effectively slavery," he said.
In addition, Brown is calling for an international summit to address the issue of child labor. The goal of the summit is for world leaders to develop a roadmap to eradicate child labor everywhere by 2020. Additionally, he wants to see a $13 billion increase in funding to address the issue. Last year, the Department of Labor released a report stating 71 nations currently produce items made with child labor.
Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis announced $32.5 million in grants at the time, intended to combat child labor around the world."These reports provide an overview of international efforts to protect children from hazardous work and identify critical gaps in policy and enforcement that leave them vulnerable," she said in a press release.
By this September, the department added another three nations to the list of nations said to be using child or forced labor to make goods. The Department of Labor says more than 215 million children are engaged in child labor, and cites the International Labour Organization as saying more than half of those children are also performing hazardous work.
Some large companies such as Levi Strauss & Co. and Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. reportedly have specific policies that monitor suppliers to make sure no child labor is used in their products. Brown says regular members of the public can help too by adding their names to the petition he plans to personally deliver to the Indian Parliament.
"Sign the petition asking the Indian government to take action immediately … so that another year does not go past with the complacency about child labor," he said. "(The holidays are) a time when we should be celebrating, but we’re actually unfortunately exploiting young children."
The public can add their voice to the petition by visiting www.educationenvoy.org. If you have specific information about where goods made by children are sold you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with that or other stories to investigate.