We are a country of a billion solutions for 100 problems. This is how Nobel laureate and child rights crusader Kailash Satyarthi described India at the 12th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit held recently in New Delhi as he appealed to the government to pass the pending Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment (CLPRA) Bill.
Whether or not we are a nation of a billion solutions will be seen during the winter session of Parliament when the Bill will be introduced. The Bill, if passed, will impose a blanket ban on employment of children aged up to 14 years in any form of industry and restrict non-hazardous work to adolescents between the age of 14 and 18.
And not only will the Bill make the law consistent with the Right to Education Act but it will also be in consonance with the ILO’s child labour conventions. For a country that has 60 million child labourers, Mr Satyarthi’s appeal should not be lost on the government and especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has time and again stressed the demographic dividend.
Despite many laws in place to ban child labour in certain sectors, the practice of hiring underage workers is prevalent as they can be paid less and they don’t take up much space. From agriculture labourers to children in the flesh trade to domestic workers, there’s an emotionally and physically scarred generation of children waiting to be rescued. Therefore, this legislation would be one of the many steps towards the long-drawn-out battle against child labour.
There are no two ways that the government must step up efforts to ensure that no child loses his/her childhood to forced labour. But we as individuals cannot shirk the responsibility to do our bit as pointed out by Mr Satyarthi. It is ‘people like us’ — the educated middle class — who hire children as domestic workers thinking that they are doing these children a favour by providing them shelter, food and clothing. We are just denying them the opportunities to break the cycle of poverty. Children who don’t go to school end up doing lowly jobs, thus passing on poverty into the next generation. It’s time India stopped letting down its children.