Home Children Silent workers: how poverty, minimal govt. initiative scars future of India’s child...

Silent workers: how poverty, minimal govt. initiative scars future of India’s child labourers

According to the 2011 census, the number of child labourers in India is 10.1 million. This is the story of one such girl Sunita from New Delhi and her efforts to lift herself out of poverty.

By Muskaan Lalchandani, TwoCircles.net

New Delhi: Sunita, 24, is known by everyone in Sewak Park, in West Delhi – the national capital of India. Sunita was a child labourer, one among the whopping 10.1 million child labour workforce in India.

At the tender age of 12, she started working as a babysitter, Sunita told TwoCircles.net. Her employer was a working woman with two kids and a busy schedule. Sunita’s day started at 8 a.m. every day as the kids, aged 3 and 5 respectively, needed her constant attention. The 13-year-old babysitter was required to do all the household chores, including cleaning the house and feeding the kids on time dutifully. The only task she wasn’t able to perform was read out stories to the little children as she was illiterate.

Sunita wanted to learn the English alphabet. Sunita’s employer, even though she had a busy schedule, would take out one hour every evening to teach her young children and Sunita, who she regarded as her sincere help, to read and write. The teenaged Sunita would work during the day and in the evening would learn the English alphabet with the help of her employer.

Being a keen learner, Sunita was able to differentiate between and enunciate the alphabets and one of her most memorable memories was to be able to write her name in ‘Angrezi (English).’

At 18, after having spent her childhood taking care of kids younger than her and learning easy words in English, Sunita wanted to open a parlour. “I was fascinated with make-up and jewellery and wanted to spend the rest of my life making people beautiful,” she told TwoCircles.net.

Her employer, whose children were grown up now, wanted to reward Sunita for her help and duties. She recommended Sunita as a hardworking and disciplined woman to a girl’s salon looking for employees. “My madam decided to pay for my salon course so that I could learn and be trained in hair-cutting, make-up, and other services,” she said.

Today, at the age of 24, Sunita is married and works at a high-end and reputed girl’s salon, which is located nearby her in-law’s house. Sometimes, Sunita visits her old locality Sewak Park, and says she is always ‘met with a warm welcome.’ Her two younger sisters are in 10th and 12th standard respectively and plan to go to college. The siblings help the parents around the house but do not work or are employed. The child labour at Sunita’s house stopped at Sunita.

Like Sunita, many girls in West Delhi are without a birth certificate or an Aadhaar card and forced into child labour due to extreme poverty. Their parents don’t remember their birth-date or year, and the girls are not aware of their exact age. These girls work as helpers at different homes, by doing chores like cleaning, cooking, washing dishes etc and earn a meagre income to support their families. Most of these girls drop out of school after 5th standard and some complete their schooling from open schools.

Child labour is a massive problem in India. India ranks poorly on the index which evaluates the well-being of children. India features in 25% of countries performing poorly in the area of quality of life for children. Facing adverse economic situations at home, these girls are forced to work in adverse conditions by taking up jobs like mining, glass-making, etc.

According to Observer Research Foundation’s (ORF) Child Labour Study Group, Child labour is abundant in the rural areas and is highest among socioeconomic categories such as OBCs (Other Backward Castes), Muslims, Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes. The root cause is described as a lack of parental education and household financial problems.

Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra have the highest occurrence of child labour with Uttar Pradesh’s 22% workforce being children below the age of 14.

ORF’s report on child labour also describes the lack of awareness about labour laws and rights leading to improper working conditions and malnutrition among these young lives. Children’s inability to raise voices against getting low wages is what makes them attractive to employees and they usually sit in cramped places for an unfair amount of working hours leading to health hazards.

In India’s Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, scores of families are involved in making and decorating bangles. The bangles they make are shiny unlike the futures of the little hands manufacturing them.

Little hands are better at manufacturing intricate and delicate bangles as described by employers at Firozabad. Glass making and designing is a risky task that requires the manufacturer to sit in tight places, inhaling toxic fumes. The dust used in polishing glass is extremely hazardous for the eyes and causes many respiratory problems.

In India’s Gujarat, a study by the Indian Committee for the Netherlands describes that almost half a million children–the majority of whom are girls from Dalit and Adivasi (tribal) families– work on cottonseed farms. As is the case with the bangle industry, the delicate hands of little girls is what makes them a good fit for cottonseed farms.

India employees almost 80% Muslim child labourers as compared to the 19% Hindu, suggests ORF’s report ‘Retired at Eighteen.’

The footwear industry of Agra, the glass industry in Firozabad, the silk weaving industry in Varanasi, the Zari industry in Bareilly, the handmade carpet industry in Mirzapur-Bhadoi, and the lock-making industry of Aligarh are known to have high concentrations of child labour.

The report puts forward some solutions and resolutions for the government of India to eradicate child labour, which the report maintains affects the economic well-being, quality of life, fundamental rights, etc. of the citizens of India.

Some of the suggestions put forward are Dilution of Clauses in The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016. For example, the amendment describes that a child can work in a family enterprise. Clauses like these disturb the well-being of children in states like Uttar Pradesh where children mostly work in their homes manufacturing items like bangles and glass. Another suggestion put forward is the “introduction of cooperatives in areas with prominent child labour, financing smaller enterprises, and redirecting younger children to schools and the older children to initiatives, government bodies, and industries for skilling them.”