By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India, Aug 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Campaigners hailed new hope for child rights on Thursday after a trafficker who tricked five Indian boys into menial work with the promise of better schooling was awarded a rare life sentence.
"This is just the beginning," Narendra Sikhwal, head of Jaipur's child welfare committee, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"It is a first for Rajasthan - and possibly the country - that a man engaged in child labour has been sentenced to life and not just let off after paying a fine, as is the norm. We are hopeful that many more such verdicts will follow."
Sikhwal spoke a day after one man - identified as Sonu and who said he was a college student - was sentenced for trafficking five boys from their homes with the promise of a better education. The boys were instead held captive and forced to work in a bangle factory in the western state of Rajasthan.
Rights campaigners said the landmark verdict by a court in Jaipur, Rajasthan's main city, had set a precedent in child labour cases, where conviction rates are low and perpetrators often escape with a fine.
Rajasthan has about 250,000 child workers, one of the worst state records in the country, government data shows.
Wednesday's verdict followed the 2016 rescue of five boys, aged from 10 to 17, from a bangle-making unit in Jaipur.
The five had been lured from their homes in eastern Bihar.
In a 19-page judgment, magistrate Vandana Rathode said the boys had testified that they were locked in a rented house, forced to work from morning until late evening and beaten up.
According to officials, 80% of the children working in Jaipur are trafficked from Bihar - more than 800 miles to the east - to make bangles and other handicrafts.
Manufacturers favour children for bead work and intricate embroidery as they are easier to control than adults, cost nothing and are dexterous, officials and campaigners said.
But now traffickers and beneficiaries face a crackdown.
A state-backed campaign against child exploitation began in January, with new checks at stations, awareness campaigns and a more systematic approach to fighting legal cases.
The court awarded compensation of 146,000 rupees ($2,042) to be divided between the boys, who had faced threats from their trafficker for testifying.
"With this verdict, an example has been set that will definitely be a guideline for other courts across the country where similar cases are pending," said Suresh Kumar, executive director of Bihar-based child protection charity Centre DIRECT.
"This judgment will also be a deterrent," Kumar said. "Hopefully, bangle manufacturers will think twice before hiring children now."
($1 = 71.4920 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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