Poor financial condition forcing many children into child labour
IMPHAL, 9th Dec: Even though engaging children under 14 years of age is illegal under Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, this practice is still an ugly truth in Imphal area in the face of abject poverty among several families.
This finding was based on a special survey jointly conducted by Manipur Alliance for Child Rights (MACR) and The People’s Chronicle in November. The survey covered Khoyathong, Majorkhul, Nongmeibung, Ayangpalli and Checkon areas to find child labourers in hotels, workshops or other shops. The survey found eight children under 14 years of age and nine children above 14 years of age but below 18 years working in these areas.
Right to Education Act makes compulsory education for children from 6 to 14 years mandatory. On the other hand, using children under 14 years as labourers is strictly prohibited under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act except for sharing helping hands to their families after school hour or during vacations. However, any activities which are detrimental to their study or involve handling hazardous materials are prohibited.
The underage labourers, including some from Bihar, were compelled to take up these odd jobs in a meagre wages due to abject poverty in their families. Despite having interest in study, they could not realise their dream of going to school due to their families’ financial conditions and they are holding spanners, screw drivers and utensils instead of pens, pencils, books and exercise books.
Though they want to go to school like other children, they are fighting a moral dilemma on thinking what would happen to their families if they stop earning and go to school instead.
As the survey was randomly carried out in just five areas, the actual number of child labour in Imphal and other districts of the state would be more than one could imagine.
As such, authorities concerned need to have an assessment regarding the reason for those children doing these odd jobs instead of spending their times as children and to take up certain initiatives to address these problems.
According to MCPCR member Keisham Pradeepkumar, the main reason behind child labour is unemployment problem and absence of right to job for every person. Child labour will automatically decrease if every family has sound financial condition, he contended. Pointing out that any person under the age of 18 years is regarded as child, he said that reducing the age for defining children to 14 will result in more number of child labourers.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly defines children as any person below 18 years and the country needs to amend Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act and Right to Education Act in line with the UN definition, he opined. Pradeepkumar further informed that every child has some fundamental rights, which include right to survival (life, health, nutrition, name, nationality), right to development (education, care, leisure, recreation, cultural activities), right to protection (exploitation, abuse, neglect) and right to participation (expression, information, thought, religion). The state needs a fully functional child labour task force to prevent child labour and to ensure fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution to the children, he maintained. Pradeepkumar also said that MCPCR had submitted a draft policy for children to the state government in April this year and another reminder to discuss and approve the same in the state cabinet in November. Once approved and implemented, the policy would be one of the best child policies in eastern India, he said.
He also emphasised on carrying out a child labour census operation while adding that the outdated data has been proving a roadblock in taking up welfare schemes for children.