Representatives of different non-government and government agencies working for child rights dwelt on the progress and challenges posed before them. The conference highlighted some of the failures in identifying and reaching out to children, particularly those engaged in child labour. Future action plans were also discussed. The conference, however, failed to bring out any positive thoughts or comments from crucial stakeholders and remained more or less confined to opinions from NGOs.
Subonenba Longkumer, Project Director CECS, said that there is need to keep check on government programmes so that the vulnerable section of children can be reached. He urged that all stakeholders must look beyond things around them and put joint efforts to understand the various needs of such children. “We must assume responsibility to stop child labour,” he said, adding that meetings after meetings alone cannot solve the problem. He added that agencies working for child rights should also contemplate on whether their facilities and services are benefitting child labours’.
Longkumer, who is a child rights activists and also runs a night shelter for street children, said findings have revealed very basic causes like poverty, illiteracy and ignorance for increasing child labour in the State. Drawing attention to an independent survey conducted by CECS, he said that out of 1112 houses surveyed in one colony in Dimapur, 264 houses have engaged children as domestic workers. He said it is appalling and measures must be adopted to stop child labour. He also said that sexual abuse of domestic child workers is a very serious matter that must be dealt with. It may be mentioned here that the Constitution of India prohibits the use of children below the age of 14 in any hazardous job. Sadly, domestic work is not considered hazardous even though a very high number of criminal cases have been recorded in the state as well.
DWM Nagaland region Coordinator, Sister Therese said everyone must be held responsible for increasing child labour in Nagaland. She said that there is a high demand for child domestic workers in Nagaland and neighbouring Assam’s children has become the soft target. DWM since its inception has rescued numerous non-Naga child domestic workers who were sold into Naga homes. She said that testimonies of several rescued children, especially girls, have revealed gross violation of child rights. “We think we are doing them a favour by providing food, shelter and clothes,” she argued.
Prodigal Home Director, K Ela also raised apprehension about the “adoption” pattern of domestic workers by Naga families. “They claim to “adopt” them and even give them a new name,” Ela said. Stripping the child’s name itself is a gross violation of fundamental rights, she added. Ela said it is a worrisome factor which has captured the Naga society and urged very stringent adoption rules to tackle the impeding identity crisis.
June was just seven years old when she was taken away by an “agent” from Bandhari to Wokha town as a domestic worker. She lived with a Naga lady for some years where she recounted her horrific experience. “I use to work the whole day-fetch water, firewood, clean the house, wash clothes and utensils,” June said. Her reward for not finishing work on time was a good beating, she said while giving her testimony at the consultative meet on child labour.
She shared that the “agent” never gave her parents the address where she was employed. Also, the only payment her parents’ received was the first time she was taken away. She was later kidnapped by some men from Wokha town and sold off to a family in Guwahati.
But her burdens didn’t end there as she was ill treated by the family she was sold to. She took care of the cattle, children and household chores. Finally she mustered the guts to run away and begged a stranger to take her into his house. The stranger, she said, kept her well and even informed the police in Guwahati about her. With the help of DWM, June was rescued last year by Women Cell Dimapur. She has reunited with her family. June is now fifteen.