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Ban on child labour: Is this enough?

The ban will save children from physical abuse but scepticism prevails about its practicability. What more?

india Updated: Aug 03, 2006 12:52 IST

Twelve-year-old Dinesh is a resident of Chuna Bhatti, a slum in west Delhi. He works as a domestic help in an upper middle class home in Saraswati Garden across his home. In the mornings he squeezes in an hour to pursue a computer course at a centre run by Saksham Bharati, an NGO.

But Dinesh, the sole earning member in his family, is now all set to lose his meagre income. The Government's decision to prohibit employment of children below 14 years of age as domestic servants or helps in dhabas (roadside eateries), restaurants, hotels, motels, teashops, resorts, spas or in other recreational centres has hit Dinesh's family hard.

The ban has been imposed under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, and will be effective from October 10. The Ministry of Labour has already issued a notification to this effect.

"I get a salary of Rs1,200, which helps me fend for my ailing mother and my three siblings. Often my employers give me used clothes and some food," Dinesh said.

Dinesh is among an estimated 50,000 child workers employed in Delhi homes. According to South Asian Coalition Against Child Servitude (SACCS) estimates, there are at least half a million child workers in Delhi and about 10 percent of them are working as domestic helps.

There are no exact figures available on the number of child workers employed in Indian homes, but estimates by the National Domestic Workers Movement show that there are about 80 million domestic workers in India.

According to the International Labour Organisation, the domestic workforce accounts for anywhere between 20 to 40 percent of the child labour worldwide.

Ramti Bai, Dinesh's ailing mother, understands that her son should attend school. "I know my son should go to school and not work at this age. But for that the government should provide us some financial help," she says.

Meanwhile, Dinesh's employer, who did not want to disclose his name, says, "We are not aware about this notification but if there is any such move then we will ask Dinesh to leave."

K Kannan, communication coordinator, Plan International India, an NGO working for children's rights, says: "The root cause of child labour is poverty. We need to tackle this if the ban is to be effective."

A technical advisory committee, on whose recommendations the notification was issued, has incidentally noticed that these children working as domestic helps and at roadside eateries and restaurants are subjected to physical violence, psychological trauma and at times even sexual abuse.

The committee pointed out that these children are made to work for long hours and undertake hazardous activities, which severely affect their health and psyche. It further said that the children employed in roadside eateries and dhabas are the most vulnerable and easy prey to sex and drug abuse.

"The committee is right, but the point is how these children will sustain themselves once they are out of these jobs. In fact, many of them could become even more vulnerable if their families are not provided financial assistance by the Government," Vinod Karla, convenor, Saksham Bharati, said.