Talk about freeing a child from the shackles of labour and our State Government has just managed to balk at the prospect.
The Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the State's Labour Minister Mrinal Banerjee have recently written to the Central Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, explaining their inability to free under-14 children from their jobs.
As per the latest amendment to the Child Labour (Protection and Regulation Act (1986)---which came into force in October 2006---children who are employed in 15 hazardous industries including domestic sector and restaurants, kids must be freed from child labour and returned home.
In the absence of a rehab policy for children, the State Government has stayed away from taking any action for eliminating child labour. "In many instances we have observed that forcing children to leave their jobs may not be advisable since many of the kids come from families where parents are either disabled or have no income. If we take these children out of their jobs, we will be forcing them to either become beggars or petty criminals", minister of state for labour (West Bengal) Anadi Sau told Hindustan Times.
Sau said that the new law may be forward-looking but the real enemy of child development is poverty. "So many factories have shut down all over the country. The Central Government has also stopped recruiting for so many of its departments. Unless the Central Government provides economic support for the poorer families, they will continue to send their children to work outside home", pointed out Sau.
The Labour department nevertheless is making an effort towards rehabilitating some of these rescued children but it is not enough. About 570 schools---each accommodating 50 child labour-- have already been set up in 19 districts but the target is setting up 683 schools by 31st March, said Sau. "These kids get Rs 100 per month apart from free education and meals. The average cost comes to Rs 1000 per child", said Sau.
The Department of Social Welfare, Women and Child Development, which plays a supportive role to the Labour Department on issues like child labour, also feels that rehabilitation of the family is more important than rescuing the child from any job which he may be doing. "There are two schemes under the Central Ministry, the Integrated Street Children Programme and the Integrated Working Children Programme. Both these Central Government schemes are running but they are inadequate as rehab packages", said S Nurul Haque, Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare, Women and Child Development.
The State is now keeping its fingers crossed that the next five year plan may offer more largesse for children and their upkeep.