We’ve ignored child labour for too long

Imlisanen Jamir

The recent arrest of a couple by the police in Kohima on charges of assaulting a 13 years old girl child is only one example of the precarious situations that many children live in most Naga homes.

Domestic child labour is rampant in Nagaland, especially in the towns, and discourse on cruelty to domestic helps –mostly underage poor girls — has remained partial and flawed. Society’s double standard could not be more conspicuous here.

So here is an issue that society feels shy of facing squarely.

In the above instance, the couple was taken into custody on April 12 based on a complaint filed by the Konyak Students’ Union, Kohima (KSUK) and investigation is ongoing.

Child labour, as classified by the International Labour Organization (ILO), is described as work that deprives children (aged 5–17) of their childhood, their potential and their dignity and that is harmful to physical and mental development.

It refers to work that can be mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful and interferes in some way with their schooling.

The ideal solution to this issue would be to arrive at a point where society can do away with the practice of putting child domestic workers to work. But this is not an ideal world, and socio-economic milieus of our society make it even harder to completely stop this practice.

And faced with this situation is the fact that the seemingly “educated” people at whose homes they work show little understanding at according them the dignity and respect that every individual deserves.

This issue reveals the uncaring and hypocritical nature of our society. There has been continuous failure to significantly promote and defend the domestic child workers’ cause. They have stayed on the fringes of our social discourse and have been utterly marginalised.

It is therefore important to identify protective factors – education, social support and family stability – which could form the starting points for developing intervention programmes that aim to prevent children from entering domestic work and protect those who are in work. There is also credence in the demands for formulation of laws to deal with this special issue; with formalisation of employment a first step in that direction.

Serious discussion with stakeholders on how to integrate these into policy and legislation is now an urgent requirement.

Comments can be sent to imlisanenjamir@gmail.com