I was taken aback this morning when I opened my mailbox to see a mail with the subject being: child labour. Imagine my absolute horror when I opened it and saw a petition
to ask the Government to drop a proposed amendment to the child labour laws that would allow children below 14 to work in what they call 'family enterprises'! It took me some time to process what I was seeing. I then searched the net to find out more and fell on an article very aptly titled: The Modi Government Is About to Make Child Labour Legal Again, And Has a Horrifying Reason To Justify It
. I must confess that the rather toxic cocktail of heat+fever+work+IPL has impaired my access to news as news time is also cricket match time. I still do not know how I missed this one as I usually have a sound ear where children are concerned. Anyway before my rant and raves let me bring you to date with the intent of this horrific proposal. If the amendment is not shot down and I hope you will all join in helping doing so, then the hard work done in the field of child labour, work that has even been hailed by the Nobel Committee, is about to go down the drain as according to the amendment children under 14 till now protected by the existing law, will be allowed to work in 'family enterprises'! And before you say anything let me enlighten you to the fact that 'family enterprises' include carpet-weaving, beedi-rolling, gem-polishing, lock-making and matchbox-making. And if that was not all, family enterprises also apply to entertainment and sports. The existing law + the Right to Education Act had entailed a drop in child labour from 12.6 million in 2001 to 4.3 million in 2014. Now, if we do not SCREAM and stop this aberration the figure will take quantum leaps. The girl child who is already deprived as is evident in the 64 against 82% literacy, will be kept home for housework and denied her right to education.
I can barely hold my rants but the article quoted above has some more horrendous justifications to this retrograde and inhuman amendment. According to the skewed rationale of our honourable minister of labour this will give kids an entrepreneurial spirit
. But as the article caustically remarks not every tea vendor goes on to become PM.
And come on the term: family enterprise is opened to every interpretation under the sun. Wily entrepreneurs will walk the whole nine yards to traffic children as cheap labour. A child activist painted the grim picture of what awaits children were this amendment passed: "All our campaigns to end bonded child labour, starting from the 1980s, will go up in smoke. Schools will be emptied out and poor children in states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh will be back to working in sheds and makeshift factories that will all go by the nomenclature of family enterprises. The worst-hit will be the children of Dalits, Muslims, tribal families and those belonging to marginalised communities
I need to take a deep breath.
All the work we have done comes undone. True the laws were not implemented but for those of us who found our voice and indignation of a child working and reported the employer will now have no law to back us. This thoughtless amendment makes beggar children, dancing children, children working in tea shops and sweatshops legal as all these can be termed 'family enterprises".
The children in this picture also will be deemed legal as their families are construction labour. More pennies in the pockets of the contractor who can get them cheap. The list is endless, each more nightmarish than the other as by one stroke of the pen the state will legalise all forms of child labour. So hold on, are these not the children who also have a right to education till age 14? Then how does the equation work? It does not for me as am one of those who believe that children should have a right to be educated all the way and even 14 is too young for them to work.
Children need to be nurtured, cared for, loved and educated. They have the rift to learn, to play, to laugh and even to do mischief. Any self respecting society should ensure that. Children working is a shameful blot on any society worth its salt. I cannot begin to fathom how such an amendment has even been thought of.
Made in India takes on a whole new meaning; this one is nothing short of unpalatable.
Let us for once raise our frozen and mute voices and ensure that this does not happen.