Thirteen-year-old, Sarita Deshmukh (name changed) works as a domestic help at Kandivli.
She is the eldest among her three siblings and since her parents cannot take care of all, she has to work.
Sarita started working when she was eight. “When I was small, I used to accompany my mother. It’s been two years I have also started working,” said Sarita.
Like Sarita about one crore children in Maharashtra aged between 5-14 are engaged in various works in industries, according to the Labour Ministry.
Child labour is not a disease; it is a symptom, and one of the most complex issues, which is affecting the future of the country, say social activists.
According to the Juvenile Justice Act, a child is a person below 18 years and the same is applicable to child labour issues.
When activists conduct raids at places employing children and tell the employers about the breach of law, they have an explanation ready. “I am not torturing them. I not only pay them, but also provide food and accommodation,” said Harshad Malik, who runs a tea stall in Dharavi.
Snehal Rane, who works for Balprafulta (an NGO working for children), said: “Employers say cleaning is a low-paid job and adults don’t like doing it. Even if they do, they gain experience and switch jobs if they are paid better.”
Sandeep Shinde, a social activist working for Childline (Mumbai police helpline), said that when they rescue children and send them back to their parents, they again send them to work. “The mentality of parents does not change. Unless the system changes and the authorities ensure that the child goes to school, the problem will persist,” said Shinde.
Child rights activist and judge of Children Welfare Commission, Santosh Shinde, said: “The government has started an integrated child protection scheme for five states.” Soon 21 states will come under this scheme, he added.
“Then protection of children from all kinds of exploitation will be in the government’s hand. But citizens should help the government to make it a success.”