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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.



1. Samuel - June 23, 2007

I hope you dont mind me contradicting your threat. But I doubt that the mumbai edition of times of india got their facts right. Cause im from Mizoram and I know that we dont hire children to work. I cant help compare to what i have seen in Delhi, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Kolkatta and Hyderabad. I see that children are employed with a small amount of pay to do manual work in these Metros. If you’d really like to know, i would like you to see for yourself, its a totally different world out there.

2. Remy - June 25, 2007

Perhaps they consider children doing household chores and helping parents as child labour? In that case child labour here in australia would also be more than 20%. I grew up in rural village in mizoram and I worked a lot helping my parents in every way I can and everyone I knew also do the same. However we do not work like the way children work in other parts of India, that we did not work for money or to make a living but rather help our parents with household chores. I seriously doubt the authenticity of the source quoted by the newspaper. However, it will be good if the government of Mizoram take a look at itself instead of categorically denying this.

3. Makima - June 26, 2007

Child labour in Mizoram? I excercise my right to Freedom of Expression and express utmost doubt to this ‘ILO analysis of Census 2001′ as far as Mizoram is concerned.

It is not uncommon to see children help fetch water and help out with household work or maybe help their parents sell vegetables in the market, specially in the villages. But children working for money is unheard of in Mizoram. I, as a Mizo who grew up in Mizoram, am very disheartened, no… offended by this report (not this blog).

Besides, all children go to school there. How can they find time to work? Its truly ‘a totally different world out there’. How can they even compare it with other metros!

4. ZOaTlau - June 26, 2007

Children in Mizoram are not forced to work and very few are working in car washing centre and tea stall. The state Human Rights and Law Networks’ Director Vanramchhuangi said in Aizawl District the number of below 18 yrs old workers are about 50, Aizawl is the state’s capital and it has the highest number of child labour in Mizoram. HRLN has an exclusive survey on this issue. I feared the obove survey may not be a reliable source.

5. Peter - July 14, 2007

As an Australian married to a Mizo who visits the region annually I would like to state that I have never witnessed anything that resembles child labour. Children help their parents around the home or on the farm usually before or after school as they do in other parts of the world , even in Australia. Mizoram is a christian state. Chidren are treated as per the teachings of the bible.

6. Anonymous Mizo - July 14, 2007

I question the way the statistical measurement is taken by the Mumbai edition Times of India, I highly doubt about being Mizoram the highest in child labour, including Sikkim and our North east brothers sisters like Nagaland.

Like Val_Brosky said there is a different between children working to earn some money as a pocket money not because of starvation, and children who work as an organise labour. Also part of our Mizo tradition is to help our elders, teenage help their parents in farming, in cities, they help in cleaning the house, feeding pigs, gardening the courtyard, watering flowers etc etc. So here is the wide gap between the so called child labour that is organise labour and being working to earn some money before 18 yrs old.

In my opinion, there are so many other mainland Indian states that can top the list of child labour, even just from the fact of them being practising caste system.
I challenge their definition of ‘child labour’ and the way it is ‘measure’ by this newspaper, they should come and see Mizoram in their own eyes, study our culture and society, and even compare with their own caste ridden society, and then they should conclude, and not like this publishing something which is so baseless that lack a deep analysis.

7. Anonymous Mizo - July 14, 2007

No matter the source is be it International Labour Organization (or Times of India, Mumbai Edition), I still question this report and its measuring methods, Mizoram population is 9 lakhs approximately, in my point of view, almost all Mizo children do work, specially on weekends when there is no school like helping in household work etc. Like i mention before there is a difference between an organise child labour and the kind of work done in our Mizoram, ofcourse there are children who are working in carwash, workshop garage etc, but overall, Mizoram cannot be on the top of this labour list.

For all those who studing/working in mainland India saw their society, their ‘child labour’, including their so wide gap of high and low class and their caste system, and almost all mainland Indian states have much higher population and then ofcourse the number of children will also be higher, and to top it of with their culture of having servants, and very often they keep child servant, keeping in mind with our tradition and culture and theirs, it is just not possible to be the top on this list.

I personally have this opinion that eveything that seems bad is put a blame on north east people by mainland Indian, they have a little knowledge about us, infact almost none, when we know their state capital since we were in middle school, their college going students also do not know any capital in north east, except Imphal, they think all north east people are Manipuris, which is wrong. They have no idea about our culture system, our tradition and practices, so a good example is this ILO report, be it international report, the reporter must be a mainland Indians who make a conclusion without coming to Mizoram and without proper study and analyse of our society.

I do not care about the age definition – 18 or 14 yrs, my main concern is the reporter understanding of north east society and its structure specially in this regard Mizoram.

8. Chhama Chenkual - August 20, 2008

I share the sentiments of the people who gave their comments. I not only doubt the story but can confidently say it is an outright lie. My girlfriend has worked in an NGO looking after the welfare of the abused and underprivileged women and children for a couple of years and she can recall only one incident where they have a report of child labour during her time there. And believe me, the Mizo society is run in such a way that child labour will be brought to the notice of the concerned people very very quickly. Its reports like these that made me doubt the integrity of the journalists who write such stories. Good job bringing it to our notice.

9. Michael Ruatfela - July 28, 2009

I think it is the way Child labour is measured..If we are talking about “labour” as in working, then yes lot of child labour..but isn’t
wonderful to help people out? I’ve not seen any child working to earn money back there. I was there for about fifteen years I do recall asking my aunt to let me work for her as they were building a large tanky for the goverment…the engineering who was there was very serious about my joke and told me that I can not work as I dont look 18..I was not …
Do Mizoram have a kind of work that can use child as a labour? Farming and Govt job are the main ….hard to see the bombay news report..maybe they are like HSBC punch line “Diffrent people diffrent thinking” Any way this is realy good ..maybe we need to check what their point are ..always good to take + from – …

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