By Impuri Ngayawon:
“How do I keep my father in jail for long?” this heart-piercing question, coming from a 12-year-old girl led to many disturbing questions and facts about child labour and most importantly about child protection in our country.
She doesn’t remember when she started working. As far as she can remember her days gone by, she has always been working. She earns Rs.10 for making 10 iron brushes a day. The brushes come in a wooden bar with holes made in it with a machine, and her job is to push iron strings through those tiny holes and make bristles for the brush. These brushes are mostly used in construction works.
“It’s difficult to insert the iron strings and often it cuts my hands. But I try to be careful and do it properly,” says Parul. “I do it at home. I don’t go out to work as it helps me to also look after my two younger siblings because they are still very young and small.”
Parul’s mother works in a nearby bora (jute bag) making factory and earns Rs 80 per day. “My mom’s work place is just half an hour walk from home,”Â says Parul as if to assert that she finds comfort in the fact that her mother is close by and will come to help when she needs. Her father is an alcoholic and doesn’t work to support the family. He often gets violent and beats his wife and children. “My mother had called the police many times and put him in jail also. But he comes out every time after 2 or 3 days. It is difficult to keep anything including money at home or else he will take it away and sell it”, confesses a worried Parul.
All Indian children (including Parul) have the right to be protected from economic exploitation, from performing any work that is hazardous, interferes with their education, or is harmful to their health, according to the Constitution of India, the Indian Penal Code, the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act of 1956, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, and other legal frameworks. Children like Parul need protection starting from their home itself. AfterÂ year-long exposure to violence and abuse, added with the burden to work, Parul has suffered physical as well as psychological and emotional exploitation.
“Whenever I cry I get severe headache. Mom tells me not to think too much as doctor had told her that I have a mental problem,” Parul reveals more of her struggles. “I am taking medicines every day since February this year,” she added not knowing that she has been diagnosed with TB. The medicine prescription along with the medicines which she was holding indicates that she is a TB patient now.
Extensive and numerous laws and policies wisely drafted year after year to protect children and give them their right to life, have not yet fully seen the light of day. A shocking 1.4 million Indian children still die annually of largely preventable diseases. Though the under-five mortality rate in India has decreased over the last decade, to 52 per 1000 live births compared to 85 in 2003, children who survive are faced with multiple challenges to live healthy and free. Nearly 125,000 or 12% of children aged 5-14 years are known to work for their own household or for somebody else.
Will India’s laws and policies protect Parul? Will the law enforcer keep her father in jail? Who will provide protection to her and her family from the failure of law enforcement? The 2014 Anti Child Labour Day has just gone by, Parul and many more such children give us many reasons to observe the day while they silently wait for a world free from exploitation, abuse, forced labour, sickness and the unknown future marred with fear.