Little Rashmi is happy her school gets over by noon. It gives her a lot of time to wash dishes in the kothis of Vikaspuri. She works in five houses and makes at least Rs 2,000 every month, enough to buy medicines for her mother who suffers from tuberculosis. “My mother told me to work for some time. She has promised to join me and help from next month,” Rashmi said.
A beginner at school, Rashmi, 11, has big dreams. “I want to be a police officer. Sweeping and washing dishes is not something I’ll do for long. My employers don’t even offer me food,” she said. But her school does and she enjoys it every day.
Though the Centre is planning to amend the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Bill 2012 which allows children below 14 years of age to work in ‘family enterprises’, experts say it will push them away from education.
Ten-year-old Murad wakes up early in the morning with a tattered sack to pick up plastic bottles and tin cans with his father. He roams around for the next few hours looking for things that might fetch some money to feed their family of six. He eagerly waits for the clock to strike 10 am when he can get out of the heap of garbage, get dressed and go to school. He works hard in school but his ‘job’ often becomes a topic of ridicule among classmates.
“These children are living in unhealthy conditions. With education, they can improve the standard of their life,” said Jitendra Singh, who teaches child labourers in Rohini.
A Census data analysis by NGO Child Rights and You (CRY) revealed in urban areas, child labour increased by 53% from 2001 to 2011. This increase in urban child labour could be attributed to increased migration including seasonal migration for employment as well as trafficking of unaccompanied minors,” said Komal Ganotra, director, Policy & Research, CRY.
Many child labourers have started getting informal education through NGOs and individuals. For Ravi and a dozen other children who do odd jobs around Connaught Place, their teacher Firdaus became a ray of hope. “A few months ago madam ji came to me when I was mending shoes and asked me if I would be willing to study. My father was initially reluctant because my income is a big help for my family but flexible school timings made him change his mind. Now I study regularly. It gets slightly hectic but it is worth it,” Ravi said.
(With inputs from Hephziba Lakhanpal, Nalini Menon and Saakshi Saluja)
Names of children have been changed to protect their identity