Child labour might still be a necessary evil in a country like India but the new law proposed by the government will worsen the condition of child workers in the country. The burden of the government’s lofty ‘Make in India’ dream cannot be allowed to rest on our children.
While poverty remains the main reason why child labour is prevalent it certainly doesn’t mean that children who work can help their families to break out of poverty. It is like a vicious circle. When children are either not sent to school in the first place or are forced to drop out and start working as cheaper labour they miss out on acquiring formal education and skills which are crucial to getting a decent job and a significant improvement in their standard of living. So, in fact child labour helps in perpetuating the cycle of poverty instead of breaking it.
Many well-meaning people in our society feel they are in fact doing a favour to Child Domestic Workers by employing them. This is at best a self-serving delusion. While many of us may treat them humanely, we still make them work for us and our children. Yes, in most cases these children come from poor families, often from remote villages where they live a life of abject deprivation. But, our goal should be strengthen the hands of those work for creating the required social and economic infrastructure in such so that these children don’t have to work in our homes and miss out on their childhoods and a chance at a better life.
In most cases, these children who are sent to our homes by dubious placement agencies are exploited, abused and cheated. The money promised to them doesn’t reach their families. Unwittingly, we have become part of the systematic exploitation of such children as their employers.
It is a common myth that to save ancient craft children need to start working in hereditary occupations like carpet-weaving, glass-blowing etc… In any case should the cost of ‘saving’ such ancient crafts be millions of lost childhoods? Should the burden of this ‘saving’ befall the tiny and still unformed minds and bodies of little children? It is nothing but a cruel ruse by the industry lobbies of such sectors to continue to get government benefits by retaining the status of cottage and hand-loom industries.
Many of us come from impoverished backgrounds, some of us might even have ancestors who were petty artisans, or even labourers, but education and economic opportunities enabled us to rise and live a dignified life. If there is a skill that really needs to be preserved it can be done so through government-aided training programmes. Children, if they want to learn a family skill should be allowed to do so but not at the cost of their future and childhood.
Is it possible to track what goes in people’s homes? The notion that children can ‘help’ their family-run businesses after school hours seems benign but is loaded with risks for millions of child labourers who will now have no recourse to legal remedies to get out of forced child labour. How will the government track if the child is really working in her own family-enterprise given the poor state of monitoring agencies? Besides in the Indian context the definition of who is family is also ambiguous.
Most children below the age of 14 years already work in family enterprises, agriculture, artisanship, entertainment industry (except circus), this amendment will pull even more children into unregulated child labour settings.
The truth behind family businesses is that these are most often unorganised cheaply outsourced paid per piece production jobs, where children are pressurised to work for hours together for very meagre income leaving them with no time to study, or for recreation.
It’s like the same argument proposed by supporters of show-fighting. The one who survives is better. Children’s lives are not to be played around with just because they are born in poor families. They deserve education and a healthy childhood as much our children.