Tackling scourge of child labour

Next time you go shopping for clothes in the city’s popular hubs famous for street-wear and knockoff of branded clothes, spare a thought for those tiny hands that helped sew a button or embroidered the beautiful panel of that smart top.

A new study, ‘The Hidden Workforce’ by Save the Children NGO says child labour in the garment industry is one of the rapidly growing unorganised workforces in the city, especially as Delhi is known as the hub of garment export industry in India. Save the Children’s experience of working on child labour in the garment industry has shed light on the emerging phenomenon of informal manufacturing garment units that thrive across the city. And worse, these manufacturing units have surreptitiously shifted from factories to households and small sweat shops which are not easily identifiable.

“The main cause of concern is that now child labour has shifted from factories (formal sector) to households and addas (informal sector), which has made it harder for NGOs and government to monitor its rise,” Thomas Chandy, CEO, Save the Children tells Metrolife.

The age-old hindrance remains lack of quality education which demotivate the poor families from sending their children to school and invest their lives in getting some education. But greater hindrance seems to be the “linguistic paradox of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986,” says, Suman from The Child Trust, an NGO which works for child rights.  According to Suman, “The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 is one the most debated Acts. It outlines where and how children can work and where they cannot, instead of  abolishing it completely.”
The NGO officials say, “The present government has recently proposed a new amendment which states, children below the age of 14 can work in family enterprises, farm lands but only after school hours and on holidays. The condition is that such enterprises should not involve any hazardous occupation.”
Save the Children pointed out that ‘the family enterprise’ are now the homes where children from the age group of three to 18 continue to work in garment industries, where they do intricate embroidery on handlooms undertaken in addas and home-based embellishment work of pasting stones on pieces of readymade garments, finishing tasks of a readymade garment before it is shelved in a showroom or clothes shop, like cutting thread from a pair of jeans, children’s readymade garments, etc.

About 170 children in 14 areas in Delhi have been rescued from this distress by Save the Children. Chandy says, “The figure is small as it is very difficult to persuade these children against this vice. Most of them seem to be happy working for hours for extra money.” The more one works the more they get paid the research said.

A video shown to Metrolife by Save the Children’s officials had children below five years involved in thread cutting in homes with their families. Says Suman, “This is the linguistic paradox I am talking about. When you put a word like ‘family enterprise’ then a child in a family of artisans will start working in that sector, it easily formalises or say even legalises child labour in a way.”

“When Right to Education Act, where education is mandatory for each child from age group six to 14 is not implemented in its true form, how can the new amendment be foolproof,” Suman wonders.

The small ‘family enterprises’ are functioning full steam in homes in Gandhi Nagar, Geeta Colony, Kailash Nagar, Usmanpur/Seelampur, Chandni Chowk, Pratapnagar Central, Chandni Mahal, Khirki, Shahpur Jat, Batla House, Tuglaqabad Extension, Okhla, Sangam Vihar and Madanpur Khadar according to the study by Save the Children.

Sandeep Kumar, Minister for Women and Child Development, Government of NCT of Delhi assures, “Based on this report, the state government will join hands and hold dialogues with NGOs and civil society urgently. We will also analyse other such reports on child labour and a refined model to abolish this crime will be adopted with urgency to combat this menace.”

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