16 Jan 2008

Child Labour in India: Reality bites ...

It has been a decade since we came up with the law for the prohibition of the child labour; it prohibits the child labour only in the hazardous labour. In a welcome move the central government on 10th October, 2006 expanded this ban to Child Labor in Homes, Dhabas, and Restaurants/shops. But, thanks to the ineffective enforcement mechanism in place, we still live with this phenomenon, in the much proactive civil society, as if those poor children are invisible. Who is to be blamed is not the question, as the blame will end up as always upon the state machinery for not having an effective enforcement mechanism in place. This is just to sensitize ourselves about the phenomenon, the way we all live is not to change, but just be considerate enough to these children who we see daily, in the tea stalls, in the stationery shops, restaurants etc (may be at our own home). They are severally ill-treated in front of us, we just be the silent spectators, as if that is none of our concern. True, it is none of our concern, in the modern world, what happens to the other, whether that person is in an accident on the road, or in an emergency situation , we all are busy in our own lives and the intricacies.

Last year in the month of May, at a local tea shop nearby Nugambakam, Chennai, where I was putting up, I came across the plight of child labour just before me( it is not that I haven’t came across child labour before, but this was the first time I took notice of their hardships). I use to frequent there for a cup of morning tea or the cheap break fast. This small kid, will be aged between 7 to 10, slim in built, with a smiling face use to always come to deliver the food. In the beginning I never noticed this kid. It has been because of his mannerism and the peculiar way in which this child used to interact with you, makes you felt of his presence. While I was having food, suddenly a cricket ball came into the tea shop, as any other child, he was curious of this ball and just gazed at it for about a minute, walked towards the place the ball was lying inside the tea stall, took it with a smiling face gave it to the child, almost of his age only, who came running in search of the ball. For this act, which doesn’t effect his work, or rather has affected the business or any factor that could have provoked a shop keeper, that fat chap came down from the place he was making tea, to give a tight slap on the head of this helpless child, and with a grin he went back, as if he has won the heavy weight championship, throwing some abuse at the child. The other customers were there to laugh at this child. I stood there as a mere spectator, not knowing what to do or say, finished my tea and just walked out.

On a Sunday, by offering him a chocolate I tried to strike a conversation with him. Later on during the conversation I came to know that this is his first chocolate in his life! The whole conversation became a real eye opener for me.

He has been working at this small tea shop for about two years. I tried to ask about his parents but he kept silent. He has been constantly beaten up and harassed by the shop keeper and one more helper with him. Most of the times he gets beaten up for no reason, the shop keeper and his helper vent there frustration on this poor lad. Adding to this is the bad language showered upon him. Even the customers often beat up this kid for being late in serving the food by just a few minutes.

This is not an isolated incident. Even other eating places, which have chain of hotels in the Chennai city, have rampant cases of child labour(not only Chennai, this is common to each and every corner of India, I had came across child labour being rampant at an interior village, which is some one hour ride away from Bhopal) . Another incident which shocked me was when I visited my friends place. An eleven year old kid was employed as a house hold worker. He supposedly also cooks food. I tried to strike a conversation with that child also, but my friend’s mother rebuked him as if he has done a great sin by talking to me. One cannot be better educated than the parents of my friend, makes it evident that it is not all about education. We still live with this; I couldn’t say a word there.

Look at the above incidents which happened to me are clear violation of the existing law. Progressive step of expanding the scope of law to include Child labour prohibition law to include the child labour at hotels, dhabas and as house hold workers is much appreciated. But the same old story of legislations continue, though the laws are present, no one seems bothered about the enforcement, they are just meant to be black letters at the Government Gazette. Just removing the child labour is not easy, but at least these children should be treated in a better way, some mechanism for education, part-time or night-school could be worked out. Events like the above discussed would have happened to the life of all of us. We just live by it. What can be done is a question which has the biggest question mark ever.


Aditi said...

United Nations-MDG..this might interest you…
One of the darkest characteristics of poverty is that is seems to prey on the vulnerable and defenseless. In low-income countries, one out of every 10 children dies before the age of five. In wealthier nations, this number is only one out of 143.
I think its high time we all individually or collectively Stand Up and Speak Out for our rights

This will help all you people on this blog to do something along with the United Nations in your locality.
Check this

sarah said...

i agree to you. but the sad sad thing is that though we may think we have advanced in our thinking, we really haven't! people still believe today that if a child can work and earn then he/she should be allowed to do so, irrespective of the work or the age. people think they are doing the kid a favour by giving him/her work, be it domestic work or any other kind of work! this is ridiculous! god alone knows when people's thinking will change, but lets hope for the best, do our part and leave the rest!