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Hiding Child Labour Behind The Veil Of Family Business. Aa Gaye ‘Acche Din’?

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By Abhishek Jha:

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 was a major step in the direction of ending child labour. However, there were problems in implementation of the act as it did not “apply to any workshop wherein any process is carried on by the occupier with the aid of his family“. This loophole allowed children to be absorbed in the work force of family run businesses.

Bricks in a temple in repairs, Varanasi Benares India

Last month Bandaru Dattatreya, Minister of Labour and Employment, announced that the government might amend the law. One had hoped that this would plug the loophole. And why did one hope so? Because the earlier law was framed in an India perhaps not too keen on prohibiting child labour or giving them an education, the Right To Education Act only being passed as recently as 2009. But after that, one has seen that a lot of effort has been put in making children go to school and not to work, mid-day meals being one such example. Instead of working all day in a field to earn their meal, children had the incentive to come to school where they would get a meal for free. Some states even gave bicycles to girls to stop them from dropping out.

From the nature of these policies, one can see that the effort was to make those living at subsistence levels, who were either forced or even willingly put their children to work, to understand the benefit of keeping children away from it. But, as one might deduce, the conflict of RTE with the Child Labour Act would mean that children could still be put to work.

The Loophole In The Loophole

However, a caveat still landed in the amendment, which allows children to help their family after school hours or in “fields, home-based work, forest gathering” etc. And this amendment has now been approved by the Cabinet. The  ministry had explained to the Standing Committee On Labour that “It cannot be denied that a large percentage of India’s population is working in the agriculture sector, and most of the children in agriculture are working with their families on family farms. The issue of prohibiting the children from working on their farms would, therefore, be a complex and delicate issue. Further there are many artisan families where traditional family skills are passed on from older generation to their progeny in their early age, and this helps them in their overall development and earning livelihood later in their lives.Reports claim that a government official went so far as to say that they “want to encourage learning work at home as it leads to entrepreneurship.

One conclusion that can be drawn from the reasons offered is that those who framed the Bill are either plain stupid or were inattentive while framing the law, which appears slightly unlikely as they took the extra trouble of replacing the previous clause, which explicitly allowed a “workshop” run by the family of the children to employ them, with a new one. One does not need to be an expert to know that it would still cause the same failure in implementation as before. It cannot be easily determined whether children are helping their family, or working towards the family’s income. The Standing Committee report explained this clearly to our legislators. It further advised that “allowing children to work after school is detrimental to their health as rest and recreation is important for fullest physical and mental development in the formative years besides adversely affecting their studies.

The “entrepreneurship” argument is even more beyond comprehension. In case the officials didn’t know what law is being talked about, “labour” is (last time we checked) mostly physical work done to produce goods. A labourer can hardly do anything innovative when he is handed a sickle. Even if the said official meant that he is going to give money to children for an enterprise, say for altering the Mumbai skyline to make it look a bit more aesthetic, the children would need to go to school to learn to add, subtract, and multiply numbers.

Advice On Deaf Ears

In light of the expert advice that the government had, the approval by the cabinet shows cunning and obstinacy. It is hard to understand why children cannot learn the crafts of their forefathers after they have completed school, even if it is mandated by social norms that children learn these crafts from their parents and even if this is “a complex and delicate issue“. In fact, the government had received an even better proposition. Since the RTE Act provides that children be able to complete elementary education even after the completion of their fourteenth year, the Standing Committee suggested that the ideal definition of child in the Child Labour Act allow for this provision of RTE. The report also explains that the International Labour Organisation’s Minimum Age Convention, 1973 requires that “the minimum age for admission to employment or work shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling.

It is very clear that the government wants to preserve a workforce that it does not have to give adequate pay to, and a workforce that cannot demand anything because it is going to be invisible. All industries that are run as family enterprises can use labour that simply doesn’t exist because those children are only “helping their family“. Costs of production will remain low (profits therefore high) and ministers can pose for photographs with graphs of growth, illusions of a shining India, and the inevitable “acche din“. Perhaps when the Bill is taken up for discussion, the government’s answer- as to every other thing- would be to point out how they have improved on the previous Bill. It would be foolishness to accept this ‘whataboutism’. No government should get away with such a law. There are already problems that people working for the rights of children face, and a lot of those problems have to do with the implementation of laws. Let us not compound their problem by allowing the law itself to play dice.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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