I remember reading two short stories from Anees Jung’s “Lost Spring: Stories of Stolen Childhood” in class 12. Of these, the one called “I want to drive a car” has stayed with me ever since. It talked about a young boy named Mukesh who worked in a glass furnace, somewhere in Firozabad. People there did not know that it was illegal for children to work in the glass furnace, with its high temperature and dirt. And there were around 20,000 such children, of whom many had lost their vision working there. Mukesh’s grandmother believed that it was their karma, their destiny. But Mukesh wanted to be a motor mechanic – and he wanted to break the shackles of his fate.
Now imagine a Mukesh in your locality, working at a construction site, who didn’t even get a chance to dream or get a chance to go to school. Now imagine the sister who comes to the child’s mind only when kanjak puja is around the corner. Now think about the other children working in hazardous export industries, or in the informal sector which is unregulated by the government.
We can’t imagine how vulnerable these children are, given the terrible conditions they are made to work in. Child labour in India is sustained by poverty and vice-versa. This cycle can only end when we make education a priority, when we use it as a weapon in eradicating poverty – and simultaneously, child labour.
It is estimated that there are more than 400,000 street children in India. There are many reasons for this overwhelming count – family conflict, barter deal, lack of social security and lack of quality education. In fact, some of us who live in urban areas hire helps at very low wages – instead of being aware of the country’s economy and laws. It is even more disheartening to hear of the several cases of violence, torture and abuse!
All this makes me wonder what has made us so cruel and stone-hearted. It makes me think of all the lessons in ethics we’ll be leaving for posterity (if there be any at all). Are you conscious when you deny a kid of their basic rights to education and dignity, while also sending your kid to school at the same time?
It seems like the government is taking no tangible action. Elimination of child labour should be our priority. The government did ratify the ILO Convention Number 138 (concerning the minimum age for employment) and Convention Number 182 (concerning prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour). The Child Labour (Prohibition And Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, provides stricter punishment for employing any child illegally. But then, who is ensuring stricter implementation of these laws? Who is taking the necessary action?
As responsible citizens and youths of India, can we pledge that we’ll start taking action – starting from our own homes and localities? That we will not avail the services of a domestic help, that we will discourage ‘chottu‘ or ‘gudiya‘ to help us in any way they shouldn’t and that we will stop calling them these names? Furthermore, can we ensure that we will find help, work together and send out notices to shops, dhabas and other such outlets which often make use of child labour, illegally? Can we promise that we will create more opportunities for children on the streets to educate them which will enhance their personality and skills – so that they can provide for themselves and live a life of dignity?
Can we do these? Can we come together? Can we take the responsibility to help ‘the invisibles’ realise their true potential, so that they aren’t ‘invisible’ anymore?
Image used for representative purposes only.