The lost childhood

images (1)There is no universally definition of Childhood. Generally speaking a work done by a Child under the age of 14 years is said to be Child Labour. There is no place on Earth, which is free of Child Labour whether it is in Home, Cities or in Industry. India has the highest number of Child Labourers and the number continues to grow. They were estimated to over 12.6 billion. Child Labour which is very much prominent in Barak Valley as a domestic helper is a serious menace to the society and to our country which needs effective measures for eradication. Child Labour means “LOST CHILDHOOD” and lost forever. Children need to be protected. Children are important components of the society and also the potentials of tomorrow. Childhood is the most sensitive part of the life of every Human Being. Psychologically, the character of a person develops during this part of life. Wordsworth has stated, “Child is the father of a man”. Children all over the world are the future of mankind. What they get from society today will be returned in the same coin when they grown up.

Poverty & Child labor

images (2)Children are being exploited in Traditional as well as Modern societies, in Democracies, Monarchies and in Dictatorships. In India, the problem of Child Labour has assumed very alarming position. The incidence of Child Labour is the direct outcome of Poverty and Socio-Cultural fabrics. Fundamental Rights and Directive Principle of State Policy embodied in the Constitution have far relation with them. Despites, the enactment of various laws, expressing deep concern over the issues by social activists, academians, the magnitude of the problem has not been set aside, rather it went on increasing day by day.

From, films like Stanley Ka Dabba, I Am Kalam and Chillar Party, Bollywood has addressed Child Labour often. The exploitive practice of Child Labour has come to be recognized as a major socio-economic problem. Child Labour jeopardizes Children potential to become productive adults, robbing them of their Health, Education and specially the Future. Children are the most abused and exploited segment of the population exposed to worst form of Labour such as Hawking, Shoe-Shining, Car Polishing, Rag Picking, Brick Kiln etc.

Child Labor & the Barak Valley

Children in most part of the Barak Valley are forced to worked as a Bonded labourers in Brick Kilns to pay off family debts owed to money lenders and employers (Dalals). The self employed Child Labour, which is  extensively visible in the Barak Valley at every Rail Stations/Crossings, Bus Stands, Traffic Points in selling Toys, Newspapers, Tea, Snacks, Water Bottles, Chanachur/ Badambaza etc. The number of self employed Child Labour increases with the implementations of the Child Labour Law preventing the engagement of Children for employment, but poverty forcing them to engage themselves as self-employed labour to supplement the meagre income of their families.

images (8)Remember the scene form film ‘Baghban’ when a boy polishing shoes catches the eye of Amitabh Bachan, who afterwards pays for the education of the Child? In reality things are totally different. If a Child asks for money-“Allah-r-waste kichu deo!”(Give me something in the name of God!), the opposite person often replies with the words-“Gorer Kaje Dukbe Ni?’’ (Can you work as a domestic helper?). This is the harsh reality which is prominent in the Barak Valley and everywhere you will find Child Labour as a domestic helper. Few years back, a 13 year boy working as a domestic worker recovered by police in Barak Valley form the house of a Ex-M.L.A. According to Nobel Laureate Dr. Kailash Satyarthi, the local M.P and M.L.A must declare their stand on Child Rights during election campaigning.

Although, employing Children under 14 years as Domestic Help, among others, is illegal in the country, they continue to work in Homes in complete disregard to the Law. The Union Cabinet accorded its approval recently, took the rules about employing children further, which permits employment of Children below 14 years in Non-Hazardous family enterprises, TV serials, Films, Advertisements and Sporting Activities (except circus) with the condition that they may be made to do these jobs after school hours. Though the decision is being criticised by Social Activists who are demanding a complete ban, it again throws light on the issue we see every day but probably ignore of children working in our homes. Exploitation of Child may come to light in public place like Tea stalls and Restaurants, the one working in homes are more vulnerable to abuse by the employer.

New trends emerging in Barak Valley

People now a day’s brought 10-12 years of age poor children’s from their native villages for domestic help. They were attached with the Job of Cooking, Cleaning and no proper arrangement for their maintenance yet the Childs happy as gets opportunity to watch Television. If people asks about these Child to the employer the probable reply, “We are helping the Child, there is nothing in the villages for him, at least he/she has a life here”. People don’t even realize that they are taking away his/her childhood and Right to Education which is a Fundamental Right.

images (7)With rising salaries and scarcity of Maids, many just choose minors as they are easier to deal with. Those who employ Child Labour at Home are well educated and are well aware of the Law. It is very annoying that Child Labour is not even considered an issue. They Children’s in Villages who are economically poor are not less talented than anyone else, and even they understand the importance of education. When someone tries to make their employers understand that these children are losing out on their Childhood, but they argue back saying-“It’s better than them dying due to poverty”.

For poor parents, Kids are a liability and when some rich person tells them that they want to employ their Kid and will also pay them, they happily agree. For them, it is an additional income and plus they won’t have to take care of the Kid.

There is yet another form of Child Labour prominent in Barak Valley is “JUGALI”(helper) with Mason/Craftsman/Carpenter. They often works more than their Head in occupation but paid with the help of the wages, because it is easy to dominate the child workers for which they are preferred over regular adults. A Child Labourer works for 12 to 14 hours a day, which is doubled the hours of verified adult workers. This means that for each Child Labourer, two adult labourers are rendered unemployed. If each child be placed in school and replaced with an adult worker, unemployment and hence poverty would reduce.

Protection to children

In addition to Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 our Constitution provides Rights of Children. Article 24 prohibits Children below the 14 years being employed. Article 39(e) and Article 39(f) also taken care of Child welfare. Article 45 declares that, the State shall endeavour to provide Free and Compulsory education for all Children until they complete the age of 14 years. Article 21A added by 86th Constituent Amendment Act, 2002 provides that,, State shall arrange for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6-14 years. This very amendment also added Article 51A(k), which made duty upon the parents or guardians to provide education to their children between 6-14 years.

Education is the most potent tool to combat the evil of Child Labour. In 2009, the government adopted the Right of Children to free and compulsory education bill. The government is also spending a lot on Mid-Day Meal Scheme with a view to primary education. For all these measures, a study by “Child Right and You” reveals that, 35 million Children in the 6-14 years age group are out of schools. Poor system of Education and Poverty are the two chief sources of Child Labour.

Save the childhood

Childhood is the most innocent and beautiful beginning of Human life on earth. As sapling grows into the fruitful tress, so Childhood grows open into life full of opportunities and potential hopes. It is very simplistic sayings. But the truth is that future fate of mankind is reflected in the quality of life they get from us today. We must try our best never to deprive them of their innocent Smiles and Joys. They will give back tomorrow what they will get today. Though, the challenges are huge, solutions still exists. Through, social intervention we can counter Child Labour at the most inherent level. Social intervention means that each one of us breaks out of the culture of silence.

Let us pledge we will not look away, when we see injustice against a Child and always discourages services like Child Domestic help. “Let us fight for Humanity, A LOST CHILDHOOD cannot be recalled!

Every Right Implies a Responsibility,  Every Opportunity, and Obligation,                                                                 Every Possession, a Duty” –John Rockefeller.

Belayet Mazumdar

Belayet Mazumder (Sumon) is a final year (appeared) law student from Assam University. Belayet has a passion for social justice & equity and often shares his views on such topics. He is a avid sportsperson & is a lead at Assam University Cricket team. Belayet can be reached at: belayetmazumder81@gmail.com

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