On Tuesday, when the world observes International Anti-Child Labour Day, it is worth noting that over a lakh children still work in the national capital alone. And that is eight months after the government amended the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, to ban child labour in homes, hotels and restaurants.
Child rights activists say the government has not properly planned for its implementation, which has made the law ineffective.
For instance, “the government does not have any inter-ministerial discussions and concrete strategies to rehabilitate rescued children,” points out Rita Panicker, Director of Butterflies, an NGO associated with working children.
Child rights activist Harsh Mander agrees. “After rescue raids, some children are repatriated. But we need to ensure that they do not go back to the same conditions.”
Poverty and sheer survival are the main reasons forcing these children to work at an age when they should be in schools.
Child activist Jerry Pinto suggests the government have intervention policies for the families to come out of poverty. “Otherwise, these children will be forced to work again,” he says.
To highlight the magnitude of the problem, Rakesh Senger, national secretary, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, cites a rescue raid in Seelampur in 2004. He says 450 children were handed over to their respective state governments. “They are all back again.”
The government is “aware of these ground realities”, insists A.V Prem Nath, Deputy Labour Commissioner, Government of Delhi. He says, “rescued children are sent to their homes. We also support the various non-governmental organisations and their efforts to counsel these children and provide them shelter.”
Nath thinks the problem is with “certain states like Bihar, UP and West Bengal”. Children from these places come to Delhi as labourers to support their families, which are invariably below the poverty line, he feels.
The government is working for the cause, says ML Dhar, Director, Media and Communications, Ministry of Labour, Government of India.
“We are assisting the NGOs and providing vocational training to the children. It is a complex problem, but things are moving. The state governments also have the National Child Labour Project Scheme in place,” he says.