Asia-Pacific, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Human Rights, Labour

CHILDREN-INDIA: Rethinking Ways To Free Child Labour

Mukul Sharma

NEW DELHI, Nov 11 1998 (IPS) - Rapacious agents combing the shockingly poor villages of Bihar for child labour regularly visit the dusty hamlet of Parthaha, a Dalit or lower caste village in India’s most backward state.

In exchange for small sums of money, its children are taken away to work in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state, in Delhi and further north to Punjab where they work on the state’s bountiful wheat and rice farms.

Two years ago, 24 children from Parthaha were found in the infamous carpet factories of Bhadohi in Uttar Pradesh, which relied solely on bonded child workers until they were forced to stop under international scrutiny.

The children were brought back to their Bihar village, but left soon after for other parts of the country because as Kamla, whose son is in Punjab now explained, “there is no work, no food, no school here.”

“He is working in some farm along with the adults of our village. He was in Bhadohi before,” she confirmed, unwilling to give more details of his whereabouts.

India accounts for the largest number of child workers in the world. The 1991 census estimated 11.8 million of the 250 million children between the ages of five and 14 were working, though other independent estimates suggest the child labour force is much bigger, between 40 and 100 million.

Children are presy ending the most exploitative and intolerable forms of child labour, like child prostitution, trafficking, employment in hazardous occupations and processes and in abusive conditions, children could regain their right to a better future.

Among the tools to combat child labour, they have identified education, particularly primary education, as the principal means. “All children outside the school system are child labourers or potential child labourers, and the flow of children into work can only be stemmed by realising universal and compulsory elementary education”.

Child labour in India is the “result of social discrimination, economic exploitation, and the lack of relevant and quality elementary education … made possible by unequal access to principal productive resources and assets,” the U.N system believes.

The joint strategy includes a regional initiative to prevent child trafficking and prostitution that will be undertaken jointly by UNIFEM, UNAIDS, UNICEF, ILO, UNFPA, UNDCP, UNESCO and WHO and would involve India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Surveys and field studies would be coordinated across all the countries, and regional and national level workshops held on the basis of the findings. NGOs working in this area with women and children, relevant government ministries and experts would participate to formulate a plan of action, the position paper states.

“A joint strategy will help speed the process of preventing and eliminating child labour and enhance earlier U.N efforts while also helping to forge links with NGOs, the government and with civic society at large,” the position paper concludes.

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