No respite for toiling little hands

Day Against Child Labour: Time to move beyond slogans

No respite for toiling little hands

No to Child Labour in Domestic Work, was the theme for this year’s World Day Against Child Labour.

This call could not have come fast enough for the child rights organisations in the City, as this aspect has turned into a pressing problem in the last few years.

Children used for labour in households are hard to track. These children are not seen outside as they do not accompany the people they serve outside. In many cases, only neighbours would know about the existence of such children, but they are not always keen to complain.

The scale of this problem is huge.

At the Child Rights Trust, the nodal agency for child helplines in the City, a bit of brainstorming on this issue has resulted in changing the training programmes for the volunteers. “We are now beginning to train them in long term observation. For instance, if a household is suspected to be harbouring a child for domestic labour, we tell them to observe the house for three to four hours. Even then its difficult,” Nagasimha Rao of CRT confessed.

The increase in outside population coming into the City, has also exacerbated the problem. “There are several instances, when families migrate to the City from North India. “They bring children with them and when they get the slightest bit of suspicion, these children are sent back. We have no way of tracing them,” he adds.
Now attempts are being made in to rope in Residents Welfare Associations and creating awareness among them about the importance of avoiding this practice. Incidentally, this problem is being seen among people who are educated and well to do.

In one instance when a family living in an upscale apartment complex in Bangalore South was found to have kept such a child, it was rescued. But the family themselves quickly sold the apartment and left, leaving no forwarding address at all.
“There are punitive measures for government officials, if they are found to employ children, but where are the stringent measures against others,” Nagasimha questioned.

Convergence

Action against people employing children in their households or workplaces are usually under Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986. The Labour Department is only one of the many departments that are required to get involved when a case of child labour is reported.

But convergence on this aspect is sorely missing. When the implementation of Right to Education was introduced, child rights activists rejoiced stating that RTE implementation would automatically bring down child labour. Three years down the line, no such thing has happened.

Identifying sensitive spots, rescuing children, effective rehabilitation to stop them from returning to work, all this remains a distant dream.

Member of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) Fr Edward Thomas spoke about issuing a clear set of guidelines about the role of each department. “It involves the police for rescue and custody of the employers,  Women and Child Development for care of the child, education for the child’s education and Health Department. The protocol has to be finalised for each department so there is no confusion about each one’s role,” he stated.

“It is not simple to just dump the responsibility on the child helpline itself. Many times, they do not even have a vehicle to conduct a rescue when they receive a complaint,” Thomas said.

Specific roles

The decision to allot specific roles for each department has come from a Delhi High Court ruling on the same matter and a recommendation from the National Child Rights Commission to implement the same in the state. Thomas also held that the Labour Inspectors should also be held accountable as they are responsible for identifying areas, where children are likely to be employed.

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