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Child labour links with Gravesham's Indian 'twin' questioned by residents

PUBLISHED: 12:23 09 January 2014 | UPDATED: 13:02 09 January 2014

A young child makes a bamboo basket in India, where hundreds of thousands of children work instead of going to school (Picture: World Vision)

A young child makes a bamboo basket in India, where hundreds of thousands of children work instead of going to school (Picture: World Vision)

© 2012 Annila Harris/World Vision

The merits of a town twinning initiative designed to strengthen ties between an area in India and Gravesham have been questioned by residents concerned over reports of the use of child labour.

Former Mayor of Gravesham Cllr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi and council leader Cllr John Burden travelled to India together to set up the twinningFormer Mayor of Gravesham Cllr Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi and council leader Cllr John Burden travelled to India together to set up the twinning

Gravesham twinned with Jalandhar, a district in the Punjab region of India in 2012, to reflect the more than 7,000 Gravesham residents with links to the area. But some residents have questioned the ethics behind the friendship.

While many areas of India are blighted by child labour, Jalandhar has a particular reputation for the practice due to being a manufacturing centre for sports equipment.

In 2012, Australian sports brand Sherrins recalled half a million footballs found to have been hand-stitched by children in Jalandhar.

According to the Jalandhar Tribune newspaper, more than 9,000 children under the age of 14 work in the district.

Gravesend resident Sarinder Joshua Duroch, 40, has called on Gravesham Council to cut the ties.

“I was there visiting family in 2010 and I saw for myself the extent of child labour,” said Mr Duroch.

“As a father and a British national, I don’t want to be associated with child labour and I’m sure the majority of people would agree.”

Another Gravesend resident, Matt Ashton, 60, of Queen’s Street, says he is “pretty horrified” by the association.

He says: “The council should put out a statement saying they can’t remain twinned with Jalandhar unless steps are taken to address this problem. They should use this twinning position to put pressure on them, force them to change.”

However, John Burden, leader of the council, says Gravesham should be proud of its ties and that “a lot of people in Gravesham have family connections with Jalandhar”.

He adds: “Of all the locations to twin with, this seems the most appropriate. We have direct community associations with Jalandhar and we’re very proud of it.”

In response to the concerns about child labour, he said: “Nobody wants to be associated with child labour, but it takes place in this country too. Before we sort out the problems of the world, we need to sort out our own.”

He added that the twinning arrangement will help both countries share knowledge and increase tolerance and understanding of different communities.

“We can work with each other and share good practice, but we can only do that by having a relationship with them,” he said.

Gravesend resident Tarsem Singh Mahil, 72, agrees. He moved from Jalandhar to Gravesham in 1962 and believes the twinning of the two areas is a good thing.

Speaking from the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Saddington Street, he said: “The old families who have been here for a long time came to Gravesham as it was known as having a lot of work, especially in construction.

“Jalandhar in the 1960s was mostly farming and people needed something else to do, so they came to England to study or work and many had it in their minds to go back, but families became settled here and were happy, so they stayed.

“As many families have been here for a long time, our children have been born and educated here, so they know a lot about British culture.

“But they also need to learn about being Indian.”

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