An election and child labour have little in common but this assembly poll is witnessing a strange relationship where children from urban slums and rural areas are electioneering – for a price.
Alarmed by this trend, the Election Commission of India has directed the state’s chief electoral officer Anil Kumar Jha to ensure that children are not used for campaigning.
It also appointed a child rights observer for each of the 30 districts to monitor and collect complaints about employing children for election campaigns.
The commission’s move came after it received complaints from the Child Rights Trust (CRT) and concerned citizens.
Forty complaints were received in a fortnight but it is an under-estimate, say officials.
According to the law, if a boy or girl below the age of 18 works for politicians who pay wages for the work, it amounts to child labour, said Vasudeva Sharma, executive director of CRT.
“Children are given party uniforms. Some have to act as jokers in election rallies. Many are made to hold banners and distribute pamphlets. I have witnessed many cases. There are complaints too. These children sometimes don’t get proper food or water. Often, they are sent by their parents,” said Sharma.
Depending on the party and the candidate, these election-children between 12 and 15 years old get either food-and-water or are paid between Rs.100 and Rs.500 a day for their “work”.
Since children are enjoying their summer holiday, parents who are mostly daily-wage labourers or hawkers see election as an opportunity to earn some quick bucks, activists said.
A family of four, which used to earn Rs. 500 a day, now has twice that amount coming in if both their children are contracted to bigger political parties or candidates.
That is Rs. 10,000 till the campaign ends. Such complaints have emerged against politicians like film actor Puja Gandhi and parties like BSR Congress in Bangalore, Raichur and other districts.
The practice of using children for electioneering is popular and rampant in Bangalore’s slums as well as in various towns across the rural belt, said Nagasimha Rao, CRT director, who wrote to the Election Commission of India.
The commission asked Jha to ensure compliance to its directive which stated “…Commission has directed the political parties not to use children for election campaigns.”
The CROs are on the job.
The Mangalore CRO complained about AICC general secretary Oscar Fernandes who recently said: “Don't neglect children, hand over Congress flags to them… remember that children are the future of Congress”.