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Restoring lost childhood

India may top in the number of child labourers ? about 30 per cent globally but that is not a fact that disturbs most of us, comfortable to lay the blame elsewhere.

books Updated: Feb 10, 2003 12:24 IST

The Elimination of Child Labour
A Practical Handbook

Pramila H Bhargava
Sage
2003
Pages: 193
Price: Rs 250
Paperback

A stomach full of food and a pair of clothes." That's what12-year-old Kullayamma, a child labourer in a remote corner of Andhra Pradeshreplies to what she wants most. Kullayamma toils in the fields from the crack of dawn in drought affected Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. She is just one of the thousands of children employed across India to do adult jobs. And facts like these no longer shock us.

India may top in the number of child labourers – about 30 per cent globally (we have 16 per cent of the world’s population), but that is not a fact that disturbs us. It is not a mainstream problem and a lot of the hype generated is more for effect and making the right political noises.And few hesitate to employ children, whether as domestic servants or unskilled labour in workshops.


Child labour is accepted by most of us as a fact of life. As Myron Weiner points out “In India no major group with in or outside the government are concerned with enforcing child-labour laws or making education compulsory, for no particular group is moved by theological, ideological, moral, or even self-interest considerations… Government officials are fully aware of the international embarrassment that comes with having the world’s largest population of child labourers and adult illiterates, but they ascribe the failure to achieve universal education as a result of the country’s poverty rather than the government’s failure.”

This book offers a way out of this quagmire by suggesting certain steps. Though the author looks at the work done in a small part of the nation, she suggests the work can be replicated around the world. To this end she has provided a fairly detailed ‘Practical workbook’ for those who want to initiate programmes for the removal of child labour in India.

Right from the selection of the area of work, going about the formation of committees, conducting surveys and selection of volunteers to the actual mobilisation and work, a detailed blueprint is drawn up. Not all the suggestions are entirely new nor does one need to agree with all of them. What in incontestable instead is that these, or some steps like these, need to be taken, and urgently.

The book starts with a brief general note on child labour in India and more specifically in Andhra Pradesh, which has the highest percentage of child labourers, about 14.3 per cent of India’s total child labourers. It then goes on tospecify the areas in which these children work – stone quarrying, cotton cultivation, groundnut cultivation, cattle grazing and sericulture being prominent. This is besides housework including looking after younger siblings.

Varalakshmi, Padmavati, Rajesekhar - numerous children find place in the book. Case studies they may be, but that is what makes the study more readable, more human. Bhargava cites example of the wok she is doing, its challenges and rewards. She also stresses the importance of involving as many sectors in this as possible, including the politicians and bureaucrats.

A considerable portion of the book is devoted to offering practical solutions, including the potential role different sections of people can play. And though there is little evidence to it, she ends (in bold letters) by saying “The government can do it.”