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Will the Wheel Turn Toward Rights of Children?

He nurtures a
dream and a future wherein he would help people in need in his home District by
occupying the position of a District Collector. Today, you will find him in construction
sites on weekends and holidays and in the school on weekdays, working very hard
to earn some additional money for his family. He lost his father when he was in
5th class, but has not lost his hope and motivation to achieve
something big in his life soon and to bring change in the lives of people
around him.  Saravanan (name changed) is
from Agraharam Village, in Ayothipattinam Taluk, near Salem. Dalits and other
marginalized communities are the inhabitants of this village.

Capture-602x350Saravanan has
joined 12th class this year and continues to be an active member of
the Children’s Collective at Agraharam village for the past 5 years. Besides
his mother, Saravanan has got an elder brother who is married and working as a
pourakarmika on contract basis. His two elder sisters got married and his
younger brother Chinna Raju (name changed) is studying in 9th
standard. He is also a member of the children’s collective. Ever since his
father died due to excessive consumption of alcohol, the burden of maintaining
the family fell on his mother, younger brother and himself. After some time, his
mother became sick and was not able to work. Hence Saravanan and his brother worked
on weekends and holidays at construction sites and supplemented the family
income. They are paid Rs. 80 -150/- per day. They continue to work even today
and as well continue their studies. How difficult is it to combine the backbreaking
work at the construction sites on weekends and resume their studies on weekdays?
According to Saravanan, the work at construction involves lifting and carrying
materials and is very difficult for him and his brother. They get body pain,
frequent headaches and are always under strain. On school days, they are not
able to be active, feel lazy and are unable to find time to do their home work.
Who can blame them? They have to get ready early and go to school in order to
catch up with their home work and assignments. Needless to say they are more
prone to getting respiratory diseases later in life as they are exposed to dust
at the work site constantly. Saravanan said that he could have scored better
marks in 10th and 12th standard, if he had more time for
study on weekdays or weekends, but there was no choice. He further added that the
Government should take the responsibility for providing alternate income to
poverty stricken families like theirs so that children will not be required to
work.

Salem People’s
Trust (SPT), the partner organization of CRY has been working with this
community for the last 5 years, mobilized the community, and facilitated ration
cards for many families including Saravanan’s family. Now they are able to get
food grains at cheaper rates. As part of its RTE campaign, SPT team admitted
several students from Dalit families to a private-aided school under RTE
provisions and Saravanan’s brother (Chinna Raju) has also got admission in this
school and continues his schooling.

Like Saravanan,
there are thousands of children living a very hard life, shouldering the family
responsibilities and having a dream to build a better life for themselves.
Looking at the life of Saravanan, many questions arise in our mind. Does the
work performed by children not interfere with their studies, impact their
health and well-being? Is working in the construction site not a hazardous work
unsuited to their age? Do these children not have a need to rest, play?

The National Scientific Council
on the Developing Child (Harvard University, 2014) has conducted extensive
research on the biology of stress. One of the findings of the study states that
healthy develop­ment can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of
stress response systems in the body and the brain, with damaging effects on learning,
behavior, and health across the lifespan. Yet poli­cies that affect young
children generally do not address or even reflect awareness of the degree to
which very early exposure to stressful experiences and environments can affect
the architecture of the brain, the body’s stress response systems, and a host
of health outcomes later in life. As
far as the families experiencing chronic poverty are concerned, the report
states that such families are likely to have greater exposure to stress as they
will have fewer resourc­es to deal with adversity than the general popu­lation.

Policy formulation process needs
to be informed by on-ground realities; experiences and evidences from the
researches and state should strive to create an enabling environment for all
children to realize their potential. But the recent actions of the state are
far removed from the reality. The Centre has proposed a set of amendments to
the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986 but these raises serious
doubts and concerns. While the proposal to amend the Act is long overdue, the
worrying factor is its intention to exempt the ban on child labour in family
enterprises. Poverty and socio-economic conditions in the country have been
cited as reasons to justify children helping their family in certain
occupations. In fact, the proposed amendment potentially opens excuses that
will sustain or even encourage child labour. The government needs to recognize
that family enterprises can also be exploitative and oppressive for children. It
would be a tough task to govern and regulate family enterprises which fall
under unorganized category.

Further,
amendments such as this will adversely affect the most vulnerable groups – girl
children, children from Dalit and minority communities who work due to extreme
poverty and will ultimately be denied of their childhood and basic rights. Child
rights activists raise questions as to whether the state is so equipped to
check every house to find out the nature of the work being undertaken. That allowing
children to work in ‘family enterprises’ amounts to perpetuating the caste
system under the guise of ‘traditional occupations’ and the government conceding
that it is incapable of alleviating poverty in the country. It was expected of
the government to take proactive steps to align the CLPR Act with the Right to
Education Act and UN CRC and ban all forms of child labour up to the age of 18
years but this has been conveniently ignored.

According to Edmonds and Pavcnik (Child Labour in
Global Economy, 2005
) who analyzed UNICEF data reported that 64.6% of
children aged 5–14 years were engaged in domestic work and 25% were engaged in
market work. Of those engaged in market work, more than 83% were working on the
family farm or in the family business. Only 8.2% of children worked outside the
family and only 2.4% did so for pay. The picture that emerges from the UNICEF
data is that for the overwhelming proportion of working children, their labour
is performed in a family context.  The
proposed amendment will only formalize/ legalize child labour within the family
and perpetuate child labour.

It is quite disappointing that the budget
allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development has been reduced
from Rs.18,588 crore to Rs.10,382 crore this year. The future of any society
depends on its ability to foster the healthy growth and development of the next
generation. Going by the policy pronouncements and actions, it appears that the
state is not yet made up its mind to end the child labour soon.

This article was first published in www.thealternative.in – http://www.thealternative.in/society/will-wheel-turn-toward-rights-children/

Isan
Magimaidoss,

Development
Support,

CRY – Child
Rights and YOU

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