Assistant Professor, Department of Botany, St Joseph’s College, Jakhama
Child labour is defined as the work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity that is harmful to their physical, emotional and mental development.
It is not to be misunderstood that child labour refers to the small day to day chores which the children are allotted to do to help their parents or the work assigned by their teachers that helps them to grow and be independent. If a child is taught how to clean his/her plate or arrange his/her toys/books it should not or cannot be targeted as child labour.
But having said that there is only so much work a child can do before it starts depriving them of their childhood and so there has to be responsible parenting to understand that when we make a choice to bring a child into the world we should also be able to give the child the childhood that he or she deserves and are entitled to. And even as a society we cannot shy away from our responsibilities towards our children as some may not have parents to take care of them.
Now is the issue of child labour real? The answer is a big Yes! And it is happening right in front of us. Most of us choose to ignore it because we want to believe that it is none of our business. We justify our silence by convincing ourselves that we are not participating in it directly or that they are not our biological children and so it is none of our concern. We conveniently turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the plight of these innocent children.
Here it would be appropriate to point out that there is a serious concern regarding the children who are brought into towns and cities day in day out from the interior village for hard labour. The intention is not to judge those families who legally adopted the children and are taking care of their education because the concerned parents are not in a position to do so. There are of course people with genuine concern about the welfare of the children who choose to keep the children with them (may be even reluctantly) as they feel that if not with them they may be sent away somewhere else where their fate may be even worse. The word worse has been used here to point out that no matter how well they are treated but from a child’s perspective she/he still longs for home no matter how simple the meal or how humble the house. All they want to feel is a sense of belonging, even for those children who have no parents they want to feel at home in the house where they are being raised. Home is where the heart is after all.
Now for those with no good intentions at all, can we as a society excuse their behaviour? We see a 10 year old carrying load which is way beyond his/her physical capacity; we see an 8 year old washing mountain of dishes, carrying two to three school bags of children older than them, also responsible for their entire house hold work, working for minimal wages in construction sites etc. And in certain cases if the work is not done as it is commanded the children are subjected to physical and mental abuse as a means to “discipline” them. There have been reported instances of where the children have been subjected to physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. And we the much privileged and educated bear witness to it. But we always want to play the diplomatic card; we don’t want to be in the bad books of relatives, neighbours and in some cases our own family members.
Child labour is illegal and it is simple as that. But what is the point of simply talking about it, it would be much more productive to work on bringing about a solution to this “social evil”. Here two things have to be considered which is poverty and education. Poverty because the parents are not able to afford the means to educate their children and therefore they are sent off to towns and cities to work as domestic helps. They like to believe that though they are struggling now but their future will be bright because in return for their services they will be sent to government schools. But also they can never be sure of the reality of treatment that they are receiving. Whether they are given sufficient time to study, is the work load bearable of a child, are they getting proper clothes to wear or food to eat or are they even going through some abuse? These questions remain unanswered for those parents.
A lot of these problems can be taken care of if the government school in the villages function well with decent infrastructure, well trained and responsible teachers, regular mid-day meals, etc. The government also needs to be sensitive and provide at least the most basic of facilities in the village as most of them are not able to afford it on their own. For example, medical facilities for women’s reproductive health and to educate the people about family planning. NGOS and childhelpline services are already there so we as people and society can also help these organisations to function smoothly.
There are lists of things that can be done to do away with it but above everything else we as a society needs to be sensitive and put ourselves in the shoes of these children and look at the situation from a child’s perspective. Can we look them in the eye and for once feel their pain? Are we able to bring ourselves to even ask them “How are you doing?” The children are our future and so we have to ask ourselves are we not all responsible for their future, biologically related to us or not. Because no matter what they become or what they achieve they may somehow once in a while struggle with victim complex, low self worth and low self confidence.
We have all in one way or the other, neglected our children for so long and so it is time for us to come together as a society and work together to secure the future of our children in our own capacity. By doing so, we will be doing a service to ourselves and can secure the future of the Nation.