Turning a blind eye to child labour

Turning a blind eye to child labour

According to the Census 2011 figures released the other day, 4% of children under 14 years are still sweating it out in workplaces across the country.

In all, 1.01 crore children in the 5-10 age group earn for their families, the Census has revealed. The census figures show that 25.33 lakh children are in the age group of 5-9 years and the rest 76.95 lakh in the 10-14 age bracket.

We are, naturally, not shocked because it is not an isolated injustice that has taken us by shock and surprise. We have been hearing of these  studies and reports with such monotonous regularity that we shrug our shoulders and ask: “What’s new?”
The latest figures are simply one more step, or perhaps a leap forward, in our steady drive towards a state of conscienceless bliss where Satan is on the throne and all’s right with the world.

Child labour is an assault on the children’s legitimate rights to education and freedom to grow in an atmosphere of love and care. It is a pity, though, that while the Indian law frowns upon child labour, the Indian way of life freely practises it.

Our founding fathers, dreaming of a brave new Bharat and its tryst with destiny, laid down the great testament of the Constitution where the value vision for the future generations was projected.

Deep concern for the material and moral welfare of the juvenilia of India is underscored and social injustice is anathematised. Universal primary education is assured. Freedom from labour during the tender age is mandated.

Hazardous conditions
Figures do not bring out the magnitude of suffering that has descended upon these millions of already impoverished children.

Thousands of children work for almost 15 hours everyday in the most hazardous atmosphere because they have to pay off the loans borrowed by their parents from the employers. They suffer from many physical ailments and thus, these children are unable to mature to their full potential as adults.

Commercial sexual exploitation is all pervasive and pernicious. Hunger and destitution have gripped them as never before. Disease and death stalk them. Most of
them are undernourished and unhappy as they were in the days of Charles Dickens.

However, much more alar-ming is the callous emotional vacuum that exists in our minds. It does not seem to have touched the nation.

For us all, the serried columns of these unfortunate victims of hunger and privation, without homes and hope, bring no tears, not to speak of stirring conscience,
if at all we still have an ounce of that precious commodity left within us.

The truth is that the iron has entered into our soul. Just as the twilight zone to which most of us escape, forgetting we’ve left these children behind. The curse of the Pied Piper of Hamlin endures!

Caged birds
How many of us have taken even a small step in our own way to free children from servitude and enable them to grow and develop in an environment which we expect for our own children? On the contrary, haven’t many of us employed children below the age of 15 as domestic help?

Quite often, the employers of domestic child labour justify it by saying that they provide food, shelter and clothing to those children who would otherwise beg on the streets. A whole spectrum of the sorrows of child labourers remains to be exposed; a whole saga of their blood, toil, sweat and tears remains to be lived down.

We have eyes to see, but we don’t see the suffering of the child workers living and working right amongst us and around us. We have ears to listen but do not hear their heartrending cries.

It is to us, the impotent and passive spectators of the outrage, as it were, that the famous German playwright Bertolt Brecht addressed the following words: “Outside, men scream and you hear them not: outside flames burn and you see them not. Grandfather, when the Day of Judgment arrives, how will you stand”

The challenge of the child workers points to “the petty done; the undone vast”. If the Supreme Court judgement of 1996, banning child labour in hazardous industries and regulating the employment of children in other fields, like domestic labour, has been implemented in letter and spirit, it would have done much to end the brutal exploitation of millions of children in the country.

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