Life can be strange at times. Just a day ago I was reading, understanding, studying and then writing about this fascinating street children run outfit called Balaknama, now here I am trying to mull over why the RS passage of a legislation on child labour sounds a little out of place.
Shambhu and Chandni both have served as editors to Balaknama at different times. They saw poverty from close quarters. They wanted to move ahead and not suffer. Having an urge to survive with the head held high they joined Balaknama. Eventually after serving the paper in different capacities they took over the mantle as editor, at different times. For them life has been kind. They atleast now have a vocation which they can proudly boast of. But things for others in India who spend time on the streets is not the same. For Vermaji a tea seller in Noida’s Sec 6, his daughter happens to be a big help. Each day after the daughter of the man finishes school, she quietly comes to the tea stall and stands.
Helps people with some grub and a hot cuppa. A young kid with eyes as bright as the sun she still has to do her daily chores, while standing outside on a hot sunny day.
Back in Lucknow Ananya lost her father at a tender age. A weekling in studies, she comes home after school only to serve in the house where her mother works. Her elder sister Preeti is a graduate and she is yet to get a proper job because there are no good jobs available. The stories continue but the troubles of these children fail to end.
While the ban on child labour up to the age of 14 in the new child labour bill is a big step forward, the move comes with a caveat that children will be allowed to support their families in home, in fields and forest gathering, during vacations and after school hours. The provision defeats the purpose of the ban.
Reports which have delved in detail in the subject explain that most of the industries – manufacturing,food packaging, garment, leather, and several others, function by outsourcing work to home-based units. Notably kids working in these units get very little protection. In India anyone is an uncle, aunt, niece or nephew. There is no system to monitor or protect children from abuse or exploitation.
Kids working in household units are far away from home, working in dark, unventilated spaces where they are crouching for hours together where they are subjected to working with implements and materials harmful to them.
In rural India, children take weeks and months off school to help parents in fields.
The latest amendment allows them to work in certain “non-hazardous” occupations.
The new Bill will make it hard for people to check exploitation happening behind close doors.
The bill also introduces hefty penalties of between six months to two years for those found guilty of breaking the law, and a fine of up to 50,000 rupees.
More than half of India’s child workers labour in the fields, and over a quarter in manufacturing – embroidering clothes, weaving carpets or making matchsticks. Children also work in restaurants and hotels, and as domestic workers.
India has been struggling to put an end to child labour where nearly 10 million children are engaged in some form of work. Latest provisions will only push this figure up.
“The law is being changed after 30 years and yet it has found a way to justify some form of child labour,” says Enakshi Ganguly, a founder of the charity, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights to the media.
India’s labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya told parliament the new law was stringent and would reduce child labour in the country.
Parliamentarians opposed to the amendments say the latest move in Parliament undermined the logic behind banning child labour.
“Would we even dream of allowing our children at home to come back from school and assist us or work for us? What is not right for our children is not right for a child from an economically weaker background,” says Kanimozhi.
Child labour has been a contentious issue in India considering more than 35 per cent of the country’s total population constitute children.
“Allowing children to work in family enterprises is likely to have far-reaching implications on children’s overall development and health. In reality, children who combine school with economic roles often work for long hours after school, or may drop out of school temporarily for extended periods of work,” laments a report by CRY (Child Rights and You), an NGO fighting for the cause of underprivileged children since 1979, on the tabled Child Labour Act.
The penalty for employing a child has been increased to imprisonment between 6 months and two years (from 3 months to one year) or a fine of Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 (from Rs 10,000-20,000) or both.
The second time offence will attract imprisonment of one year to three years from the earlier 6 months and two years.
According to statistics, while out of every 100 children, only 32 children finish their school education, 1 in 4 children of school-going age is out of a school.
Every 8 minutes, a child goes missing in India.
One can only hope children in the weaker sections of society live a happy and carefree life when they are growing up, away from the scornful eyes of masters.