By KSS Seshan
The media recently reported that the She Teams in Hyderabad, along with anti-human trafficking unit and Child Welfare department officials, rescued several children, mostly girls in the age group of 9-12 years from child labour. They were working for opulent families as full-time domestic helpers. In January, a police team based on information that children were employed for labour work in Bhongir town near Hyderabad conducted raids and rescued about 20 children.
A sample survey conducted by the Telangana labour department across select 56 mandals in 10 districts reveals that most children involved in child labour do not go to schools and are predominantly from marginalised communities. It is also surmised that 80-90% children identified as child labourers were from economically and socially disadvantaged communities.
The International Day against child labour is ostentatiously celebrated with all fanfare on 12 June, every year. Yet, child labour continues to exist unabated in our midst. The numerous Acts and laws passed against child labour by the governments periodically have not succeeded in bringing down even an iota of the incidence of this evil practice.
Child labour is rampant because it is profitable and convenient for the greedy employer. He can get cheap labour with no major demands. The fear of organised labour problems does not exist with child labour. The poor parents of the victims are not against it as they add a little income to the family kitty.
The young children when employed are not only denied of their right to education, but their precious childhood too is robbed from them. This in the long run leaves ill effects on the rest of their lives and it is likely that most of them end up in a conflict with law.
In towns and cities, there are a number of workshops, foundries, lathe shops and other establishments where the practice of employing child labour has become the order of the day. Almost every carpentry shop has employed young boys in the age group of 10-15 years. As these young kids are supposed to be doing apprenticeship to pick up skills and since they gradually take it up as a profession, they are generally not paid for their labour; and if paid, only meagerly.
The roadside welding shops employ mostly child labour and the children, thus employed, slog the entire day with hazardous machines. Many a time, young boys are left with ghastly wounds that leave permanent scars on their face and body by the sparks the welding equipment emits. Scooter repair shops and car mechanic garages invariably run with young children as tool-boy helpers. Children are drafted to work at the brick kilns, construction sites and other civil works. Rolling incense sticks, doing pico and zari work on the saris, rolling beedies and innumerable such other jobs are got done by the tiny hands which ought to handle pen, pencil, slate and books. They are forcibly denied of their rightful ‘childhood’.
It is disheartening to see unscrupulous industrial units and business houses exploiting the innocent and hapless children in their greed to make money. Poverty, as a potential cause for child labour, is no excuse as every child is entitled to the right to education till a certain age. It can, therefore, be surmised that those children who are not in schools are all child labourers.
A recent survey by the International Labour Organization (ILO) points out that in India every fourth child in the age group of 5-15 is employed; and thus is a child labourer. According to another ILO estimate, 20% of our country’s GNP is provided by child labour. The 2001 census puts the number of child labourers in the erstwhile combined Andhra Pradesh alone at 13,63,339 (male: 6,37,883 and female: 7,25,456). In Hyderabad, the figures are: male: 15,852 and female: 7,627.
The avaricious employers and the poor parents of the victims generally are ignorant of the numerous laws against child labour. The ILO with its projects all over the world is trying to impress on the member-nations to remove the bane of child labour.
Several States have set up society network for creating awareness against child labour. It is also gratifying to note that the Government of India recently established National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights. However, it is well known that the governmental efforts alone may not bring the desired results.
Prevalence of child labour is such a common thing and the practice is rooted so strongly in society that a total change in the mindset of the perpetrator as well as the victim is necessary for combating this evil.
It’s imperative to make the public feel as partners in the task of removing the evil of child labour. Non-governmental agencies should be encouraged to play a vital role in the task of eradicating child labour.
Apart from taking the necessary steps to sensitise against the evil effects of child labour, it is also must to chalk out need-based and region specific rehabilitation strategies. Establishment of residential Craft Schools where job-oriented skills, like welding, plumbing, electrical wiring, carpentry, brick-laying, masonry and such other avocations are taught, will go a long way in finding an alternative to child labour. Bridge schools with incentives can also help wean away children from unlawful employment. A strong political will accompanied by active support of people alone will ensure the elimination of child labour.
The media, both print and electronic, must become partners in this effort. There is an urgent need to formulate a policy to check this evil practice besides envisaging a comprehensive follow-up programme to rehabilitate the dispossessed children. It is not only the task of rescuing the young from child labour but also formulating an alternative policy to wean away children from such a predicament, that is the need of the hour.
(The author is a retired Professor of History, University of Hyderabad)