Aijaz Zaka Syed At 10, Moin Khan would have been younger than my son. He was seven when he hugged his parents in Bihar goodbye to go with a relative to work in Delhi. The 'uncle promised the desperately poor family a 'bright future and prosperity. After three years of toiling 15 hours a day, seven days a week producing bindis (forehead decoration that many Hindu women wear), Moin died last week when his employer hit him repeatedly.In all probability, he would have got a quiet burial and you and I wouldnt have heard of his brief tryst with life. His tragedy was discovered only when a local mosque committee got suspicious over the bindi factory owners haste to bury the boy in the adjacent cemetery. The police were called in when they noticed bruises all over the childs body. He had quietly taken all the lessons and beatings life offered him so his family could live. His body lay unclaimed for three days, as his parents raised money to travel to Delhi. Meanwhile media vultures, looking for a break from the corruption and cricket fatigue, ran the 'human interest story.Incidentally, there are hundreds of thousands of Moins out there, fighting to survive the dark dungeons of Delhi that would put Dickensian England to shame. Half a million children are caught in the vicious cycle of poverty and exploitation in the capital alone. Things are a little better in Mumbai, the movie wonderland, or Kolkata and Chennai. Uttar Pradesh is even worse. Home to thousands of sweatshops and cottage industries producing the famous locks of Aligarh to the brass and glassware of Moradabad to intricate zari fabrics, it employs hundreds of thousands of children in jobs that adults find back-breaking. Indias most populous state is also home to the largest Muslim community in the land.With the increasingly marginalised community surviving on these rare arts and crafts, its young are drawn into the same vortex before they know it. Indeed, its the same story all across India. From begging and prostitution in metros like Mumbai to factories producing bidis (hand-rolled dry leaf cigarettes) and firecrackers to pesticide-drenched farms, children are the first victims of all exploitation. At least 30 million children have their innocence stolen not long after they arrive in this world.Its terrifying even to imagine your children at the tender age of seven being snatched by strangers to work and work like cattle - until they can take it no more. Which is what happened in Moins case. Few of them survive the endless physical, mental and, often, sexual abuse. They either die young or grow into physical, mental and moral wrecks.Like your children and mine, Moin must have had his share of dreams. So must have his parents for him. How would they live with the death of their young son desperately trying to share their burden? How would they carry the burden of his lifeless body back home? Or perhaps, Im just being melodramatic. With the kind of life these folks in villages and towns across India lead, tragedies like this are part of existence. When life is a daily battle for survival, you cant spend time crying over the loss of loved ones. They will have to move on.Can India afford to move on too? Whats a childs life worth in the land of more than a billion anyway? I know child labour has never been one of our favourite topics for drawing room conversation. When a tragedy like this strikes, it does prick our veneer of indifference only to be shrugged off with unfortunate, but what can we do? We squirm. We move on.When the West or Hollywood turns its spotlight on our dark underbelly, a la Slumdog Millionaire, we get all worked up over this pornography of poverty. Of course, child labour isnt something we invented. Its a global phenomenon.English mystic William Blake tackled the issue as early as 1789 in his immortal poem The Chimney Sweeper:When my mother died I was very young,And my father sold me, while yet my tongue,Could scarcely cry, 'weep weep weep weepSo your chimneys I sweep and in soot I sleep.But, lets face it, nowhere has it been institutionalised and tolerated as in India. Five years after child labour was banned, it remains the bane of the nation that is feted as the next world power. How could India dream of global leadership when millions of its children are snatched from the cradle and abused to death? We have enough laws, from the Child Labour Act to the Juvenile Justice Act to the Right to Education Act, not to mention the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child to which India is a signatory that should have helped us banish the scourge of childrens exploitation.Children, who ought to be in school or playing with their friends, are trading their innocence for a living in factories, farms, hotels and virtually everywhere, but where they should be. No parent, if they can help it, would like their young children to work. It is poverty and their circumstances that force them into it.What we need is collective action to stamp out the disease. And the state must take the lead in such initiatives. If we allocate even a fraction of what we splurge on useless military junk or space missions, we would make a life-saving difference to millions of children. Moins story remained untold until it was too late to save him. It must not be the fate of millions of other Moins out there.Gulf News