New Delhi: Early hours in the capital of India; Sisters Soni and Laxmi, aged 10 and 12 years respectively; their day begins as early as six in the morning; both walk down barefoot from Nizammudin to Lodhi road (Some of the posh roads of Delhi) carrying heavy bags ….but please ...don't confuse these heavy bags with school bags containing books and stationaries...these are heavy gunny bags which they carry to collect rags. They collect paper, plastic, bottles, bones, metals and at times even discarded food to feed their starving belly. Ask them about future plans, “Pata nahi, roz khana mil jaye wahi thik hai’’, (we don't know, getting two square meal a day is what we dream for). Earlier both of them use to work as a domestic helper, but after the government's notification on October 10, 2006, many of them had to lose their jobs, as this law prohibits children from working in hospitality sector. Although they had to work for more than 10-12 hours a day, but at least they were sure that at the end of the day they would have enough to eat, but now even ensuring that has become a day-to-day struggle for them.
After a lot of uproar a notification was issued by the Labour Ministry on October 10, 2006, under the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986, that children will not be employed as domestic servants or as helps in dhabas, restaurants, hotels, motels, tea shops, resorts, spas or in other recreational centres. But one year down the line, one can very easily witness children working in all the above said places, that too in miserable conditions. “Perhaps rehabilitation of such deprived children is the most important aspect that is missing in the Act. It has to be done in an institutionalised way than in sporadic fashion,” says Shantha Sinha, Raman Magsaysay Awardee and Chairperson of National Commission for protection of Child Rights.
However Advocate Ashok Aggarwal who has been working on Child Rights opines that children as such cannot be rehabilitated, rather their parents can be employed under schemes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Elaborating on why one should encourage rehabilitating children Aggarwal said, “Take the example of Lajpat Nagar Institutional Care Home where the children are treated as prisoners. Even when they go to school 3-4 guards escort them. Children dwelling there don't even have the right to walk freely.”
So if there is an Act, which has been brought for the betterment of the society, is the Act successful even on a single front? “Where ever NGOs are active they have rescued children. If the ban were not enacted, these children would have continued to work. But, still there are some pitfalls which needs rectification.” says Shantha Sinha. One path-breaking job, which the Act has accomplished within a year, is that it has spread awareness regarding the illegality of child labour. Deliberating on the same Ashok Aggarwal said, “Government propaganda fueled the fire. People are at least aware that employing children is illegal.”
On its part, the government is yet to come up with a data about how many children have been rescued till now, and a track record of the children who were rescued in past one year. As per the records in Census 2001, the figures of child labour in the country touched 1.26 crore. However, the advocacy groups put the figure to as high as 6 crore. According to M L Dhar, former spokesperson of the Union Labour Ministry, under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP), three lakh children have been rehabilitated. NCLP is presently operational in 13 child labour endemic states and in Eleventh Five Year Plan there is a proposal to cover all the districts under NCLP.
Shantha Sinha says, “The number of rescued children is very low. The issue of child labour must become a priority for the concerned ministry; in fact for the country and should be dealt as an emergency situation.” So what can be the solution to curb child labour. “ The only way to eliminate the menace is to educate children, which is anyway a fundamental right of every child as enshrined in the Constitution. Article- 21 (A) guarantees free and compulsory education to every child in the age group of 6-14,” opines Sinha. “The government must set up coordination between Labour Ministry, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and Social Welfare Department to work out on a protocol of activities. There should not be any excuse. The Labour Ministry must incorporate some changes in labour laws to ensure that every child enjoys their fundamental right to education,” Shantha Sinha adds.
Ashok Aggarwal emphasises, “Government needs to play a big role from what its doing now, schools need to play a significant role. Teachers need to be regular so that children do not get de-motivated to dropout, otherwise the apathy of the government schools in a way or the other promote what is called recycling of child labour.”