By Gitanjali Maria:
I was at a local restaurant the other day, sipping a cup of coffee and biting on some crispy snacks when I saw a little boy cleaning a table in the far corner of the restaurant. He was tiny and the innocence, of childhood had not left his face. On the adjacent table to that, sat a happy family of four, parents and their two children — who would more or less be of the same age as of the child clearing the table. While one set of kids were biting into tasty food, the other, half- starved, was working hard to feed himself and his family at least one meal a day. This is the irony of childhood.
Childhood is considered to be one of the most care-free and joyous of one’s stages of life. But sadly it is not true for every kid in India. Working in cheap restaurants, brick kiln and bangle and matchbox factories and as domestic labourers, these children of a lesser God, learn the lessons of life the ‘harsh’ way and do not have an easy childhood. They are considered adult-enough to work by their under-nourished and poverty-stricken families once these children cross the age of eight or so. You pity these kids but there is hardly much that can be done.
Despite strict laws, this social evil, like many others is also hard to monitor, as it is desperation to keep the fires in their homes running that prompt the parents to send their kids for such hard and heartless toil. It is to fill one’s stomach that all men work and so do these small children. Kids are also often sold as bonded labourers to earn money. It is utter helplessness that would prompt parents to take such a heavy step.
This shows that despite India having achieved growth rates of nearly 9%, the economic prosperity is yet to trickle down to the lower sections of the society. The children of poor families are often a neglected lot. Though they may be bright and intelligent, they often do not get access to facilities to hone themselves professionally. Many of them could have contributed to the skilled and semi-skilled workforce of our nation that keeps the wheels of our economy churning. A little education and warmth could have made better individuals out of them. It is a sad fact that it is many such neglected children with a traumatic childhood who turn to anti-social activities and crimes.
Simply making primary education free and compulsory is not the all-out option. Ensuring its delivery is the important aspect. And for this it is the parents who have to be targeted. It is necessary to create awareness among parents for the need of basic education and skill training. A small course in carpentry, tailoring or iron forging could help these kids bring a better income to the families.
Child labour may be unlawful but for poor families it sometimes becomes a necessary evil to keep their homes running. A better monitoring and deliverance of government welfare schemes is essential to ensure that it becomes beneficial to the needy and deserving. And this is one way we could overcome some of our problems like child labour, poverty and many others.
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