Monday, February 14, 2011

Child Labour Laws: Lacunae and contradictions

India Together, Feb 2011

The young girl, in a yellow salwar kamiz, spoke hesitatingly into a microphone. The brightly lit stage, the darkened auditorium, the microphone were enough to terrify any young girl. More so if she was not familiar with the big city and came from rural Maharashtra. Yet, Tabassum Sheikh Latif from Shirola village in Maharashtra's Akola district testified clearly and simply about her life as a child worker. The occasion was a public hearing organized by Save the Children on child labour in agriculture in Maharashtra.

A day before the hearing, the Maharashtra government had released data that suggested that enrollment in schools across the state had increased and stood at over 90 per cent. One was supposed to believe from this that the majority of children in the state were now attending school.

Tabassum's story revealed a rather different picture. I want to go to school, I want to become a teacher, said the 11-year-old. But instead she spends her days working with her family in cotton fields like millions of other children across India. During Diwali she works in a factory that makes firecrackers, an occupation specifically banned under the Child Labour (Prevention and Regulation) Act 1986.

Yet, while handling hazardous material is specifically prohibited, all forms of agricultural work are not disallowed for children under 14. So girls like Tabassum can be found in cotton fields plucking and doing cross-pollination. Their hands get cut from the thorny bushes; they inhale the pesticide sprayed on the plants. Some of the pesticide rubs off on their hands, gets into their eyes. They complain of skin problems, nausea, giddiness. Yet, this work is not considered hazardous for young children like Tabassum.

Even as the government introduces new laws aimed at children's welfare, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is an urgent need to look at all these laws together, iron out the contradictions and find ways to make their implementation more rigorous and effective.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

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