One of the luckiest thing that can happen to us, is a good and safe childhood.
Some childhood memories involve of walking and running around in a park, while others involve of toiling a field; some memories involve the dunking of a biscuit in tea and getting shocked when just half of it comes out, while others involving making 20-30 cups of tea daily; some memories involve of a safe and educative childhood, while others involve getting ridiculed, and the education that comes from working in a glass factory.
No matter how it is, childhood comes for one and all, some relish in the golden times while some struggle to forget the blackness of it.
One in every 11 children in India is working. More than 5.5 million children working in India are concentrated in these five states- Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. This is nothing but a shocker from a country that grants free and compulsory education for every child under the age of 14. Where are we going wrong?
In the current on-going Monsoon Session, Rajya Sabha has passed an amended version of the Child Labor Bill (Prohibition and Regulation). The bill restricts the employment of children below 14 in all occupations and enterprises, except those run by his or her own family. Once passed from Lok Sabha, it will make employing child labor a cognizable offence attracting a jail term of up to two years. It provides for enhanced punishment for violators. The penalty for employing a child has been increased to imprisonment between 6 months and two years (from 3 months to one year) or a fine of Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 (from Rs 10,000-20,000) or both. The second time offence will attract imprisonment of one year to three years from the earlier 6 months and two years.
According to provisions of the Bill, no child should be employed in any occupation or process except where he or she helps his family after school hours or helps his family in fields, home based work, forest gathering or attends technical institutions during vacations for the purpose of learning. The Bill also talks of restriction of kids working in ‘hazardous conditions’ and allows them to indulge into the activities under the umbrella of ‘family business’.
The Bill has been passed keeping the socio-economic conditions that plague our country into the mind. A country where many hail from rural backgrounds, and doesn’t have enough money to eat, forget sponsoring their child’s education, the Bill seems to be stuck around this loophole. The stance about letting children work in family occupation and enterprises is questionable and unregulated.
Justifying the need to strike a balance between the need for education for a child and the reality of socio-economic condition and social fabric of the country, reeks of nothing but a failed thought process in general.
This presentation of a weak law on child labor, will indeed have severe implications on economic, human rights and moral well-being of the society. It seems that again in a bid to politicize justice, the children have been failed due to existing apathy, complacency and ruined mindset.
There is an urgent need for monitoring child labor at the district level for their welfare and safety. The need for parents to educate their kids, so that in hindsight their earnings won’t be as meagre as their parents is required. Instead of increasing the fine and jail term, the government should allocate some part of the budget in sponsoring the education of kids post the age of 14, so that they don’t have to curb their studies.
The current bill, doesn’t save the children from the menace of child labor. The bill is based on the premise that education and work for children can go hand in hand. This allowance of working in family business is going to have implications that aren’t realized by the concerned authorities yet. In reality, children who combine school with economic roles often work for long hours after school, or may drop out of school temporarily for extended periods of work.
Did we just murder childhood, for something as materialistic as money?
Are we to rely upon the Bill passed by our government for ensuring a budding childhood than a degraded one, or is it high time for us as citizen to wake up our moral conscience and act severely? Are we still calling ‘chotu’ to clean our cars, or get smokes for us, or serve us tea; are we still allowing the youngest daughter of our maids to do her mother’s work in her absence?
Don’t strive in the blissful times of ignorance. It is because of us ignoring our collective morality that many childhood have been strangled. Let us marvel and let others marvel in the beauty and blissful time of being a kid. We have all our lives to struggle and work, don’t we?