“Everyone calls me Chotu. I was born on this pavement and people say my mother is no more. I don’t know my father. I work with my Uncle at the tea stall and whatever I earn he gives me little and saves the later for my future.” This is what the little boy at the tea stall told us. Unsure about his age and name, Chotu continues to run around serving tea, collecting used glasses and washing them! Looking at his speed and efficiency, we knew he has been doing this for a really long time.
Chotu, is one of the 10.12 million children who is not lucky enough to go to school and has to work for a living. This number suggests that one in every 11 children in the country is working for a living. Even though Chotu hasn’t witnessed what childhood really is, his work is slightly better and easier than many other child labourers of his age.
Thousands of children work very late in the night to dig pits and enter rat hole mines to fetch coal. Kids are sent down to about 165 feet, to enter 2 feet high rat holes. Grown men will not be able to enter such mines therefore children become the victims. There seems to be no regulation for them! No safety measures, no proper pay structure, nothing at all. After twelve hours of working inside a rat mine like that, the child will earn 200 rupees. After extracting the coal, pulling the coal-filled wagon is another problem and conditions like these cause serious health problems. But who cares, they are poor and they need the money for a living. With this sort of an attitude: where education is a luxury, moving ahead and thinking of empowerment will be only a dream for the country.
Large number of children work in equally dangerous environments like those at fireworks, matchbox, footwear and carpet making industries. They are preferred because their small hands help in the intricate designing; they can be paid less for more hours of work.
Last year, the Government amended the child labour law and allowed children below 14 to work in family businesses and the entertainment industry. This has made the children more vulnerable. However, the amendment also makes it clear that children below the age of 14 and 18 will not be allowed to work in hazardous industries. The list of hazardous industries used to include 86 such industries, but after the amendment the list mentions only three.
The amendment has made punishment for the violators stricter. There is no penalty for the parents for the first offence. If they repeat it, they will then be charged a fine upto Rs 10,000. The fine for the employers has however, been increased. For the first time offence, the employer will be charged a fine ranging from Rs 20,000-50,000. In case of a second offence, the minimum imprisonment would be for a year, going up to about two years.
Activists however believe that the laws are not clear and therefore, it promotes child labour. The primary right to preliminary education is being snatched away from the children. The law is however, not clear. The word family has to be defined. Otherwise anyone can claim to be a child’s uncle or cousin. 80% of the children working as laborers are from the rural sector. This means that monitoring becomes more and more difficult.
Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, has spent his life for improving the lives of children and this amendment worries him. He has rescued 85,000 such children and remains concerned about the persisting law in the country. He is in talks with the Union labour minister and is trying to make changes in the draft Child Labour bill and is hopeful, says a report by CBC News.
We have grown to see child labour everywhere and it seems so natural that we don’t even think it is a big issue! It is this mindset that needs to be changed. Every child has the right to go to school, right to get education. Every child has the right to freedom. Every child has the right to live without fear!