In a regime not known for original thinking, Minister of State for Women & Child Development, Renuka Chowdhury, deserves to be congratulated for breaking free of the Euro-American-dictated paradigms and making a case for child labour in poor families in relatively traditional economies.
Having mindlessly mooted a bill banning child labour for under-fourteen year olds across the board, to pander to so-called child rights promoted by Western economies ever hungry for more and more market monopoly, realisation is dawning that the move spells doom for thousands of families across the city and the nation. While a ban on child labour in hazardous industries is one thing, a blanket ban adversely affects families where the child is a major bread winner.
It is very well for NGOs whose contribution to public life is confined to street marches massively funded by unknown sources to lament the loss of childhood of child labourers and to clamour to send these children to school. The fact of the matter is that in the first place the government has failed miserably to even situate schools accessible to large sections of the poor and underprivileged, or to equip them with staff and facilities where they do exist.
In many schools, the teachers are not trained to properly motivate and handle first generation learners, with the result that a large drop-out percentage is simply inevitable for some decades to come. Poor parents of girl and boy children who simply find it impossible to cope after Class five are now at their wits end, wondering what to do with their under-14 year old wards. Even giving a car-cleaning job to such a boy can land one in jail, so urban families are wary of even letting young children accompany domestic help to work. Without productive employment, leaving such children alone at home can have serious security issues for girl children, and result in vagrancy in boys. It is a vicious circle, and cannot be solved through half-baked measures not thought through with compassion and realism.
Another aspect of child labour is that the children of traditional craftsmen, such as carpet-makers, metal-workers, potters, artisans, etc., pick up their skills in a family environment. The international laws banning purchase of the products of child labour are part and parcel of the ugly tactics of Western countries, which seek to monopolise world markets and profits in every sphere. It is hardly a coincidence that these former colonial countries are always looking for ways and means to tilt the world market against former colonies, and to create conditions in which only their factory-generated produce can be sold in world markets. It was precisely this quest for monopoly markets that resulted in colonialism in the first place, and the same countries are now pursuing their old objectives by other means, ably assisted by local stooges in the human rights industry.
Ms. Chowdhury has done well to re-open the debate and point out that India has signed this protocol without thinking through issues properly. Her initiative for a ?learning while earning? policy deserves support from all right-thinking persons, and it is to be hoped that her party'sItalian Vicerene does not come in the way of a national rethink on what is right and good for the Indian people. It goes without saying that this would apply to a number of third world countries as well.
Ms. Chowdhury has rightly pointed out that our traditional arts and crafts have for centuries been taught parent to child at the workplace, which could be at home or outside. It is state-sponsored tyranny to fine a parent Rs. 20,000 if a child is found weaving a shawl or a carpet. And if such a child cannot cope with school and find employment as a peon or waiter, he is instantly alienated from the old way of life because he has not been equipped with his traditional family skill to earn a livelihood. Children rendered misfits by ill-conceived policies then become fodder for unscrupulous elements who exploit them mercilessly. Child labour can be a productive solution for drop-outs.
International laws cater to western economic needs and naturally trample upon the local and regional concerns of non-western nations. ILO'ssweeping ban on the purchase of products made by children reeks of an anti-third world bias. The minister has rightly advocated laws that give children a safe and protected working environment, while enabling them to earn their own livelihood by picking up skills from master craftsmen.
This is not a argue that children should have a childhood or go to school, but in a social reality in which schools do not exist, and the fact that India'straditional industries generate a good amount of employment and revenue, the ban could render the world'slargest and youngest productive force useless. With primary education in rural areas a myth, we are hurtling our youth towards lifelong vagrancy.
The hollowness of the anti-child labour drive was recently exposed when a six-year-old Bihari girl, Chunchun, UNICEF'sbrand ambassador in the campaign against child labour, was found cleaning utensils and serving food in her father'sroadside dhaba on Beerchand Patel Road. The father came to know the organisation was using his daughter'sphotograph for its campaign only when the media landed up at his door. UNICEF admitted it had done nothing to rehabilitate the girl and in fact has no funds for this purpose, as it only spreads ?awareness.? There should be an international audit on the kind of money nations pump into such talking shops, and the returns of their advocacy campaigns. Chunchun'sfather, who has eight children and struggles to feed them daily, rightly feels the state which is using his daughter'spicture should do something for the family. His demand for a house under the Indira Awas Yojna is entirely in order.
Meanwhile, India should dialogue with other developing countries on combating the deleterious consequences of such international laws.