It is the question that has been haunting the Delhi government since the notification banning child labour in the domestic/employment sector was issued three months ago — how is it going to rehabilitate the children, an estimated one lakh of them, rescued from the city’s dhabas, restaurants and homes? Three days after the ban on child labour came into effect, the government still has no satisfactory answer.
The stark reality is that even if the officials rescue child labourers, there is not enough infrastructure and mechanism to rehabilitate them. At present, there are only 20 Transition Educational Centres (TEC) for rescued child labourers. At best, they can accommodate 1,000 children at a time, whereas, according to some NGOs, the number of child labourers in the city is close to one lakh.
Asked about the plans to tackle the situation, Labour Minister M.R. Singhal pointed out that the government had proposed another 40 TECs. “The children can be accommodated in these centres,” he said. Reminded that this was hardly sufficient, the minister was left groping for a reply. “An action plan has been drawn up and it has assigned tasks to various departments so that all of them work in synergy for the eradication of child labour from the city,” was all the minister had to say.
The government, with help from some NGOs, imparts vocational training to children and gets them enrolled in schools in the TECs, said Joint Labour Commissioner Piyush Sharma. However, the numbers are too huge to deal with, officials admitted. Realising the enormous task ahead, the government has decided it will not conduct raids till Diwali for rescuing child labourers. “We do not want to traumatise children during the festive season,” Sharma said. But this will only postpone action, not avert it.
The government claims that almost all child labourers in Delhi are either from West Bengal or from Bihar and Jharkhand. Therefore, a meeting of officials from the concerned states was held, in which it was decided that the respective state governments would rehabilitate the children after they were sent home from Delhi.
What about the employers who claim that the children working in their dhabas, restaurants, tea shops or repair shops are their own? Officials would inquire whether the child is enrolled in a school and attends it regularly, said the minister. “If the child studies in a school and works part time, we will not take any action,” he said.