October 10, 2007, New Delhi: A year gone by but there is no change for Shyam (name changed) a 12 year old boy working at the roadside dhaba in the capital city. On 26 August 2007, in the house of a high-ranking Planning Commission official, a 12-year-old girl Tapti (name changed), a child domestic committed suicide. In spite of the ban on the employment of underage domestic servants, Tapti was working as a domestic servant and driven to suicide. No action has been undertaken against the employer. Shyam and Tapti are not within the radar of the government.
On 10 October last year, the government notified all child domestic labourers, children in roadside dhabas, eateries, restaurants, and child labour in the entertainment sector illegal under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986. This is the extension of the restrictions on the employment of child domestics to everyone from only government employees within the service rule in 1999. This service rule is a direct result of Bachpan Bachao Andolan's (Save the Childhood Movement), a NGO working for the rights of the child, effort to highlight the case of first child domestic slave rescued in India in 1996.
BBA's in a RTI response found that only 6,669 child labourers working in homes, roadside dhabas, restaurants, etc, covered by the latest notification have been identified. In all, 872 prosecutions were launched against the offending employers, but not a single conviction had taken place during the last one year, it was revealed.
"In the last one year, a mockery has been made out the law. Previously, only the stone-quarries, zari factories, industries and brick kilns, were the culprits. But now, with two additional areas included, the law is being flouted behind every other door," said Kailash Satyarthi founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan and chairperson of Global March Against Child Labour.
The responses of the states are appalling. In Madhya Pradesh only 94 children have been identified while in Jharkhand only 6 children were identified as working in these sectors of these 4 children were found to be over 14 years of age. In the capital Delhi, 55 child labourers working in homes and dhabas while NGOs estimate that there are more than 2 lakh child domestics and child labourers working in dhabas, eateries, etc.
"What this indicates is a serious lack of political will and lack of preparedness on the part of government to implement the law. Enforcement of the law is the key, without enforcement the law is more or less just a piece of paper. Efforts must be made to change this culture of breaking laws," Satyarthi said.
The primary responsibility of the government is to create the trust and optimism in society that elimination of child labour is achievable. The government ought to dispel the current feeling of despair, disillusion and hopelessness at the ineffective implementation of the Child Labour Law. Restoration of the faith in the governments' ability to address plight of the child labourers and to bring back their childhood is the most critical task of the government. Revival of the Right to Education Bill 2005 is another crucial task to guarantee children their fundamental rights to education and development.
- There is a need to create effective and efficient use of media by the government to sensitise and create awareness. It is important that the government takes the Child Labour Law to the masses by making them aware of it, condemning employment of children below 14 years of age and issuing a warning to those engaged in employing child labourers. The crime aspect needs to be emphasised!
- For the effective implementation of the law, the labour inspection machinery should be geared up through sensitisation and rigorous training.
- Social welfare mechanisms do not as yet have the accountability systems build into them. It is imperative that there is accountability on the state officials and a clear cut guideline of responsibility for the effective implementation of the law.
- Involvement of conscious and voluntary citizens (and civil society organisations – Residential Welfare Associations, Non-Government Organisations, etc.) could be undertaken to breed ownership and build partnership with the common masses. People vigilance committees on child labour could be initiated through honorary time bound monitors to function as official watchdogs and as support systems to the labour inspectors and the official enforcement mechanism. This will extend the new notification into the Child Labour Law and create a child centric mechanism. The focus could be on partnership with college students and school students.
- Rehabilitation of the released child labourers. The government should allocate adequate resources for the prompt statutory rehabilitation and repatriation of the rescued and released child labourers under appropriate laws – Bonded Labour Law, Child Labour Law, etc.
- Education is not just an isolated concern but also a means of liberation and development. The rescued and released child labourers should be linked with the available education schemes of the state without delay. Without this there would be large-scale disappointment, lack of opportunity to the rescued children and their families and worst, recycling of the child labourers.
Rescue and Rehabilitation of Child Labourers:
The Supreme Court of India, 1996 has given certain directions regarding the manner in which children working in the hazardous occupations need to be rescued and rehabilitated. The judgment of the Supreme Court envisages:
- Withdrawal of children working in hazardous industries and ensuring their education in appropriate institutions;
- Contribution of Rs. 20,000 per child to be paid by the offending employers of children to a welfare fund to be established for this purpose;
- Employment to one adult member of the family of the child so withdrawn from work, and if that is not possible a contribution of Rs. 5000 to the welfare fund to be made by the State Government;
- Financial assistance to the families of the children so withdrawn to be paid out of the interest earnings on the corpus of Rs. 20,000 or Rs. 25,000 deposited in the welfare fund as long as the child is actually sent to the schools.