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‘No more invisible’

It is imperative to turn children and domestic workers' rights into reality

Two significant events last week might have passed just like ordinary days for most people. However, for two interrelated cohorts of often marginalised but invisible and voiceless people, the events hold much significance. The ‘World Day Against Child Labour’ and ‘International Domestic Workers' Day,’ both International Labour Organisation mandated events, were observed on June 12 and June 16 respectively.

Why are the two issues being juxtaposed? A valid query; and the answer lies in examining the two issues closely and identifying the markers of commonalities that bind them together.

Take the case of child labour, a conspicuously uneasy subject, either buried under the carpet or defensively attributed as an ‘act of charity’ bestowed on the labourer. Evidently, most of them as employed as domestic helpers, an observable fact in Nagaland but mostly ignored.

A report by the New Delhi-based news publications, Mint in February, for instance, informed that Nagaland at 13.2% had the highest percentage of children under the age of 14 engaged in labour against the national average of 3.9%. Based on district-wise analysis of the 2011 census, there were 10.1 million child workers in India.

Likewise, a five-year study involving 1900 domestic workers across the state by the All Nagaland Domestic Workers Union (ANDWU) stated that 31% of them, mostly live-in, work for more than nine hours a day. 22% of the total respondents were under the age group of 9-20 years.

The percentage of live-in domestic workers was low since it was difficult to identify and register them owing to lack of recognition and due to the absence of specific laws, an ANDWU member functionary noted while releasing the report to media recently.

Interestingly, only 6% considered themselves as a ‘worker’ (an employee) while the remaining identified themself as helpers, servants, and caretakers, pointing to the danger normalisation of children as domestic help in Naga society.

Many were being overworked and underpaid, and helpless. Often cases of abuses and ill-treatment are reported, but seldom reach the official level as the matters are ‘resolved’ internally.

In April this year, The Morung Express asked its readers: Are domestic workers in Naga homes given proper wages and treated with dignity and respect? 77% responded in negative against 10% yeses. “Servitude in Nagaland is widespread and mostly unreported,” a respondent stated.

At the policy level, ANDWU, which got its registration in November 2018, still is pursuing some of its earliest demands including recognition of domestic work as work and their inclusion in the State's schedule of employment of minimum wages act.

At the national level, The New Indian Express reported last week that the government will soon table a Bill in Parliament to revamp the country’s complex, myriad labour laws. The new legislation will extend the applicability of the Minimum Wages Act to workers in the informal sector as well such as — domestic helps, construction workers, agricultural workers, film artists, vendors, etc, it added, citing sources.

On its part, the State Government has also notified the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, which also include “coverage of adolescents who are between the ages of 15 to 18 years in the ambit of the provisions in the above Act, and total prohibition of employment of children below 14 years in any kind of employment in the country.”

However, awareness still remains a tricky affair. Most families of domestic helps are not aware of children's rights and send them to work in other places for want of better education and other amenities. But many ‘employers’ consider employing them as an ‘act of charity’, and hence, are not concerned with or ambivalent about other rights.

These attitudes need to be corrected and combated with utmost urgency, through awareness programs and campaigns, not only at the presumed place of employment but at the source. Various governmental and non-governmental agencies, notably the State Legal Services Authority, have had been forefront in creating awareness. A recent awareness video by Kohima Police is also receiving hugely positive feedback. Such campaigns, augmented with discernable actions on the ground, are imperative to turn children and domestic workers' rights, into reality.