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Child Labour: Being Politically Correct

Being Politically Correct Effective from October 10 this year, the government has prohibited the employment of child labour as domestic servants or as workers at dhabas (roadside eateries), teashops, restaurants, hotels, motels, resorts, spas and other recreational centres under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 (CLPRA). Following an expose involving a senior Indian diplomat in Europe a few years back, government employees had already been prohibited from employing children as domestic servants. Now, as then, child labour is being frowned upon by officialdom in an effort to appear politically correct. The question that however arises is: Will this measure

CHILD LABOUR

Being Politically Correct

E
ffective from October 10 this year, the government has prohibited the employment of child labour as domestic servants or as workers at dhabas (roadside eateries), teashops, restaurants, hotels, motels, resorts, spas and other recreational centres under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 (CLPRA). Following an expose involving a senior Indian diplomat in Europe a few years back, government employees had already been prohibited from employing children as domestic servants. Now, as then, child labour is being frowned upon by officialdom in an effort to appear politically correct. The question that however arises is: Will this measure “go a long way in ameliorating the condition of (these) hapless working children”, as is being claimed by the labour ministry?

The decision has, of course, been taken upon the recommendation of the Technical Advisory Committee on Child Labour (TACCL) constituted under the CLPRA. As reported by the Press Information Bureau, the TACCL holds that children in these occupations “are subjected to physical violence, psychological trauma and at times even sexual abuse” and “invariably such incidents go unnoticed and unreported as they take place in the close confines of the households or dhabas or restaurants”. Further, these children are made to work long hours and undertake various hazardous activities that severely affect their health and well-being. Children employed in dhabas, especially those alongside the highways, “were the most vulnerable lot and were easy prey to sex and drug abuse as they came in contact with all kinds of people”. Few would dispute this assessment. But whether merely banning child labour in these occupations can “go a long way in ameliorating the condition of (these) hapless working children” is open to considerable doubt.

Now, in the light of the fact that Article 21A of the Constitution guarantees compulsory schooling to every child of 6 to 14 years of age, it is indeed significant that there is as yet no move to amend the CLPRA 1986 to prohibit all forms of child labour and put in place provisions to ensure the education and well-being of the child labourers rescued under the Act. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, as far as child labour is concerned, is no better. It merely provides for the repatriation of the rescued children back to their parents, maintaining a silence about what usually happens after that. There is no concern about the provision of educational opportunities to such children or regarding the strong likelihood of their being sent back as child labour, given their parents’ state of total deprivation. Even the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 does not deal with the rehabilitation of child labour in bondage. And the Factories Act, 1948, Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966, and the Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961, while prohibiting the employment of children in establishments covered under these laws, do not deal with the rehabilitation of the child labourers employed there. The point is that all these laws do not provide for rehabilitation or ensure the provision of educational opportunities for the children rescued under their jurisdiction. This, at a time when the state is constitutionally obliged to provide educational opportunities to all children of 6 to 14 years of age. Will the state then at least extend the National Child Labour Project Scheme to rehabilitate the children rescued when the present ban is put into effect?

The National Policy on Child Labour, being implemented since 1987, has failed because there has never been any serious attempt to deal with the root causes of child labour. Much of the mainstream discourse on child labour largely divorces the problem of the exploitation of children from its links with the institutions and structures of backward capitalism. To further compound matters, the process of change towards a neoliberal regime since 1991, besides increasing inequality, seems to have slowed down the earlier declining trend in the proportion of the poor. The low adult real-wage rates and “insufficient” household incomes earned by adults continue to drive parents to prod their children to join the labour force. The urban employment and unemployment scenario was quite grim in the 1990s sending both the boys and girls in the family into the labour force.

All this will no doubt fall on officialdom’s deaf ears; in a state of un-freedom, a recommendation banning and prohibiting this or that is all that is music to their ears. Being politically correct is all that matters. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly August 12, 2006

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