ABOLISHING CHILD LABOUR…?

The divide between the rich and the poor existing in the world’s largest democracy is glaringly discomforting and in this regard the worst sufferers are the children whose plight is no secret as the same stands evidenced by the scenes of little children begging at traffic signals and tender aged working at ordinary as well as hazardous commercial establishments besides being used as domestic help in almost every other household across the nation. The extent of blatant violation of law against child labour can be well imagined from the fact that child labour continues unabated at the official level and the glaring example of this violation was witnessed today at the event at Rajouri where teenagers served food to the officials, right in the presence of senior officials. This is not the sole example; inequality is even more stunning if the statistics are explored across the nation. Despite having taken a number of measures to secure the rights of the children, results on ground seem to be far from being satisfactory. Even bringing various legislations to ensure protection of children’s rights besides setting up of a full-fledged Ministry of Women and Child Development as against the Department of Women and Development that used to function as part of the Human Resource Development Ministry could not dispel the dismal situation on this front. The failure to achieve the requisite results is evidenced by the fact that the Law Commission of India today recommended to the Law Ministry amending of the Constitution to ensure that children below six years of age are protected from “all forms” of neglect, harm and exploitation besides recommending that their right to basic care and assistance be made an enforceable right, while noting that the current legal framework in India does not place enough emphasis on the rights of young children. Although the Commission, in its report had submitted to the Law Ministry also recommended amendments to the Right to Education Act, Maternity Benefit Act and creation of a statutory authority for early childhood development to ensure “proper emphasis” on the promotion of early childhood development, yet there is a need to focus more on the implementation front as we have not been able to substantially prevent the exploitation of children of all age groups till date with the child labour continuing to be part of the Indian society because of laxity in implementation. The observation of the Commission that the protection of early childhood development in India depends on policies and schemes created and run by the central and state governments which was needed to be taken with utmost seriousness, seems to have been taken casually by the policy planners of this nation. This is happening despite the fact that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also very keen in this regard and had even vowed to put an end to the menace. While as a priority country, India has taken huge strides in child survival and helped build momentum around this shared goal of the United Nations to end preventable child and maternal deaths, at the same time it needs to be ensured that after preventing the child deaths the life of these survivors needs to be sans any rights violations. With more than a third of its population below the age of 18, India has the largest child population in the world. A shocking 12.6 million children engaged in hazardous occupation make India home to the largest population of child labourers under the age of 14 in the world. Every third malnourished child in the world is from India. The under-five mortality rate in the country is 78.6 deaths per 1000 live births, which is below the world average. A country where medical tourism is opening up new avenues of prosperity, children of poor families continue to die from vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and tetanus. Such audacious injustices manifest themselves in various forms of social evil. However, despite the disconsolate picture as per the available statistics, the winds of change are already blowing. It is hoped that the plight of children will improve considerably if the government brings a paradigm shift in its policy by focussing mainly on the implementation part and booking and taking strict action against the officers attending events where child labour is engaged. Undoubtedly this would result in bringing an end to the villainies of skewed development on the front of abolishing child labour.