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Finally, free from bondage

Govt has banned employment of kids below 14 as domestic helps or in hospitality industry, reports Chetan Chauhan.

india Updated: Aug 02, 2006 03:20 IST

The Centre on Tuesday banned the employment of children aged below 14 years as domestic helps or in the hospitality industry.

The labour ministry issued the notification on advise of Technical Advisory Committee on Child Labour, which termed children being forced to work as as domestic helps or in dhabas, restaurants, hotels, motels, teashops, resorts or in other recreational centres as hazardous.

The committee observed that these children are subjected to physical violence, psychological traumas and,  at times, even sexual abuse. "Such incidents go unnoticed and are under-reported as they are take place within close confines of homes or restaurants," the committee stated. It found children working in roadside eateries and highway dhabas the most vulnerable.

However, the news of the ban — that comes into force from October 10 — was greeted with scepticism from various corners, including the bureaucracy, and questions raised over its practicability.

"This is like an attempt to catch the sky with one jump," was the cynical comment that the ban prompted from a Delhi government official, who was with the labour department till recently.

One does not have to look far back to find reasons for the scepticism — that the ban may remain only on paper.

Some time back, the government had prohibited public servants from employing children as domestic helps. State governments had been asked to take action against erring officials. However, months later, not a single official has been booked, claimed a ministry official.

The claim does not mean there were no cases of violation of the government order. On the contrary, it underscores the ineffectiveness of the enforcement agencies.

"Go to any government colony and you will come across small children serving as domestic helps," lamented Raj Mangal of Pratidhi, an NGO of Delhi Police.

Officials at the labour ministry is determined that the new ban will not meet same fate as the order regaring government officials. The ministry has  decided to strengthen and expand the National Child Labour Project, a scheme to rehabilitate child labourers, to every districts in the country. It currently covers 250 districts.

But even that will not be enough, says M.M. Vidyarathi, a member of Child Welfare Committee, Delhi, "as it can't cover all child labourers”.

The way out, according to Vidyarathi, is finding alternative avenues of employment for children or else the problem will continue to grow. "For it is none other than the parents who force children to work.”

More than boys, the repercussions of the notification may be worse for the girl child, who are preferred as domestic helps. "They may be pushed into flesh trade to earn money," feared the official.

However, there is a brighter side. The NGO sector, working against child labour, will get a tool to act with in cases of abuse of child servants. The Child Labour Act stipulates punishment between three months and one year and fine of up to Rs 20,000 or both for violators. "The notification makes employing a child as a servant an offence," an official said.

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