A lost childhood June 15, 2007
Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Conversations, India.
There’s a nice vegetarian restaurant next to where I stay in Kollam, Kerala. I frequent the place for its yummy Masala Dosas & Channa Bhaturas. The other day, I was tucking into a piping hot Channa Bhatura when I noticed the table cleaner, a young boy from Tamil Nadu who would not be more than 8 years of age. I kind of felt depressed at the fact that child labour still remains a stark reality in India. I also thought of how visiting India is often a visit to the hard realities of life and couldn’t help but be thankful for the opportunities I have in life. I could have been that boy cleaning the tables. And in spite of the bitterness I felt that coz the young boy had to spend his childhood in this fashion, I couldn’t help but look at the better side of things. If there is a better side. Thank God that he was not on the street. He was not begging for alms. Nor engaged in delinquent crime. He was earning from the sweat of his brow. Standing on his own two feet. That to me is being independent in life. Beyond armchair commiseration, is there something more I can do for these kids? May be the contribution to the e-book ‘Age of Conversation’ is a good step, with its proceeds going to the children’s charity ‘Variety’.The Mumbai Edition of Times of India carried an interesting story on Child Labour on Wednesday, 13 June 2007. Excerpts: It has been more than 10 months since a 1986 ban on child labour has been extended to the domestic and hospitality sectors… but life for kids such as the one at the restaurant next door is still meager wages, leftover food, castoffs to wear, a space on the floor and a lost childhood.India has more than 12 million workers under 14, more than any other nation. Voluntary Groups put the number as 60 million. That’s more than the population of a few nations put together.
Kerala has the lowest share of child workers with 0.47% of the total population engaged in child labour. North Eastern states have high rates of child labour with Mizoram topping the list with 12.34%, followed by Sikkim (12.04%) and Nagaland (8.48%).20% of child workers are employed in the farming and fishing industry.Is there any hope for these kids? Who is to change the socio-economic circumstances that reduce them to this plight? The Government, the law of the land, employers, social activists, you, me, the world, God?
Update: Quite a number of readers, particularly from Mizoram, have written to me expressing doubts about the veracity of the news that Mizoram has the highest rate of child labour in India. I’m now including a scanned copy of the article ‘Ban or no ban, they’re labouring on’ that appeared in the Mumbai edition of ‘Times of India’ in the ‘Times Nation’ column on Wednesday, 13 June 2007. The article says that the rate in Mizoram is 12.34%. The source of this figure is the ‘ILO analysis of Census 2001′.Update – 26 June 2007 – Never did I know that this blog post would be the storm in the teacup in this hugely popular Mizoram-centric blog. The blog owner Benjamin Rualthanzauva has been hot on my heels to provide the source. Following his request, I added the scanned version the newspaper article yesterday & today I have hunted down the online source at indiatimes.com. Here’s the link.
I recommend that readers visit this link and use the ‘comments to the editor’ feature to state their responses & feedback on the ILO survey. That would be citizen journalism at its best. The comments of Misual blog readers including Benjamin are interesting as they are in conflict with what is stated in the article. I feel that there’s lot discussion & fact-finding needed in this matter. For example, I know that most of the employed child labourers in Kerala come from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.