Kids at work
By TRIPTI LAHIRI
THE cream and orange cafe with scalloped windows on India’s National Highway 31 dubs itself the “Compleat Family Hotel”.
But the only children inside were small boys hard at work, clearing away the plates.
“I ran away from school because the teacher used to beat me,” said spindly-legged Mukesh Kumar, 12, speaking softly as he wiped a table, gesturing to a welt on his foot.
Kumar said he had been working full-time for three months, even though he is two years below the minimum age for employees in homes, hotels and restaurants, as set by a key 2006 amendment to India’s child labour laws.
He lives in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states. Millions of children across the country also endure the hard grind of working life, often labouring as many as 12 hours a day for paltry wages.
India, since passing a 1986 law that banned those under 14 years of age from working in hazardous industries such as fireworks manufacture, has slowly strengthened legislation against child labour.
The 2006 amendment €” passed two years ago this month €” criminalised many hidden aspects of the problem and was hailed as a major breakthrough.
But activists say the new laws have made little progress in ending a practice rooted in India’s dire poverty.
“It is all about international image building,” said Kailash Satyarthi, a prominent advocate against child labour, who accuses the government of lacking the political will to enforce the law.
”When there is pressure from other countries, you can just show them that you have this good law.”
Indian officials say approximately half a million children have been removed from work and sent back to their villages or special boarding schools over the last decade.
But the government cannot say whether the number of children rescued outpaces the number of new children sent to work.
In fact, no one can agree on how many children are employed illegally.
The last census, in 2001, put the number of child workers at 12.6 million, while a major household health survey released two years ago and cited by the United Nations, estimated it was closer to 30 million.
But Satyarthi puts the real number today as high as 60 million.
Child welfare advocates also fear that many of those saved from child labour soon return to work.
“Reintegration of these children back into mainstream society remains a challenge,” said Simrit Kaur, a Unicef child protection specialist.
“Children are removed from exploitative situations but without a clear rehabilitation mechanism, at times, they fall back to probably worse situations.”
Government labour officials say they are improving on the information used to tackle child labour.
“We want to know the actual numbers so we can target those children in a more effective manner,” said Shree Ram Joshi, an Indian labour official who expects a clearer picture to emerge from a major new survey next year.
Government authorities and activists agree that the best way to fight child labour is to improve education and family earnings €” though a few quick-fixes exist.
In the meantime, children often say they must work because they learn nothing at school and are sometimes ill-treated at home.
“My parents were not good.
“My mother used to beat me,” said Abhishek, a small round-faced boy who looked about 10, working as a delivery boy at a food stall in the heart of New Delhi.
He left his home, bordering Uttar Pradesh state, three months ago and now sleeps at the stall where he found work for 800 rupees (RM59) a month.
”This is the right thing for me now,” he said, insisting he was 14.
Years later, many child workers like Abhishek would resent their childhood spent at work.
Chitranjan Kumar Varma, 28, ran away from his teacher’s beatings and his parents, who wanted him to stay at school, to learn how to drive. Fifteen years later he earns the equivalent of about US$150 (RM523) a month.
“Now I feel bad I didn’t study. Now I understand what studying can bring you,” said Varma.
“I would have gone ahead in life. Now I can’t do anything but be a driver.” €” AFP
Taken from: http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2008/10/12/education/2199244&sec=education (The Star On-line, 12th October 2008)
n.b: Reading this article make me realise how lucky we are in Malaysia..