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Child Labor: A Blot on India

Submitted by on December 19, 2008 – 4:20 am

The one difference which you clearly notice when you go out of India towards the West is that you do not see children working in restraurents, coffee- shops, shops and factories! In India, the site is so common that we become immune to the fact that kids are doing the work which they should not be doing! We employ kids as domestic help to help our kids, hire them at work places. This is nothing less than exploiting the kid and rob him/her of a meaningful future! The issue is complex and strict regulations nedd to be enforced to abolish the child labor practice. To quote the article reproduced below: “NGOs working for children, point out that such exploitation goes unabated because there is no shock or outrage in society that children are at work and not in school. The tolerance of child labour is so pervasive that it gets internalised by parents too.”
This article appeared in The Tribune.

Without a future Movement to end child labour
by Usha Rai
The Mumbai terror attack and the discussions on it in Parliament when it opened for the winter session drowned another kind of tyranny that is keeping a staggering 12.6 million children in our country, some of them as young as five and six years, shackled to child labour. India has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of child workers in the world.
So some 1,500 people, including NGOs, MPs, MLAs, bureaucrats, sarpanches heading village education committees, corporates, trade union representatives, educationists as well as children who have been pulled out of the labour force, got together in the Capital to work out their agenda for getting every child into school. Spearheading the movement for “Abolition of child labour and right to education” were the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), UNICEF and the ILO.
It was one of the biggest national conventions of its kind and came at the end of eight state consultations on providing dignity and freedom to children by ensuring their education. In fact, the very strong statement that went out was that every child who is not in school is a child worker.
But the terror of the moment kept the media from giving due attention to the larger terror that millions of children face every day of their lives working not just in hazardous industries but even as domestic help in homes where even 60 years after our Independence they continue to be treated as slaves and are beaten.
The British have left India but the baba log culture prevails with the less privileged children carrying school bags of the more fortunate babas.
In fact, what is hazardous is to be out of the protective environment of school. An estimated 75 million children neither go to school nor to work. They are domestic child workers, street children, migrants and are called “no where children.”
The strong anti-child labour sentiments that echoed through two days of deliberations led to an assurance at the conference by Minister for Women and Child Development, Renuka Chowdhury that the distinction between hazardous and non-hazardous jobs would cease.
It was also an epoch-making convention because it was unanimously agreed that all those below 18 years should be categorised as children. So far different policies in the country have variously defined “children” as those below 14, 16 or 18.
The demand for equity and quality in education was voiced by children from across the country. The lack of high schools in villages, adequate number of teachers (in Orissa 40,000 posts of teacher need to be filled) and basic facilities like school furniture, drinking water and toilets was raised.
Voicing concern for their less fortunate brethren, representatives of 200 children at the conference pointed out, “What is our future without education? Who will employ us?” Ending child labour and getting every child into school should be “non-negotiable.” There should be no dithering on these two issues which are interlinked.
While Renuka Chowdhury went all out to endorse the demand and even announced that her ministry would come out with a logo that could be put on products that did not employ children, the Minister of State for Labour and the Minister for Rural Development, Oscar Fernandes and Raghuvansh Prasad, skirted the issue of ending child labour.
It is not really possible to end child labour without ending poverty was their excuse at the conference and there was a chorus of protests. It is, in fact, child labour which is shackling children to a life of poverty, retorted NGOs.
The eight national commissions too, including those representing the minorities, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes as well as the safai karamcharies issued a joint statement that they wanted total abolition of child labour whether rendered for an employer, middleman or one’s own family up to the age of 18.
There is an explosive demand for education among the poor today. Parents, even among the poorest, are not only capable of sending their children to formal day schools but are willing to do so.
This has been amply demonstrated in Andhra Pradesh, where thanks to the pioneering work of the MV Foundation, 1,500 villages have been declared free of child labour. Every child in these villages goes to school, the village panchayat monitors their attendance and the parents are proud of their children. In fact, the parents of these erstwhile child labourers are making enormous sacrifices to see that education of their children is not disrupted until they finish at least class 10.
They talk with pride about the transformation of their child from a child labourer to a student. As against the parental demand for education, there is the more powerful force of the market that prefers child labour because it is a source of cheap labour. Children can be forced to work for long hours in sub-human conditions of work.
Their exploitation goes unseen under the garb of ‘charity’ as if the employer was doing a favour to the child in employing and keeping him or her alive. NGOs working for children, point out that such exploitation goes unabated because there is no shock or outrage in society that children are at work and not in school. The tolerance of child labour is so pervasive that it gets internalised by parents too.

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