My brush with the reality of Child Labour

I have been volunteering with CRY for 2.5 years. As part of our weekly activities, volunteers frequently visit local communities. One such week I visited a community, as per my schedule, and came across a child who stood out of the crowd, with an intelligent sparkle in his eye.

I attempted to converse with him and was pleasantly taken aback with how precocious his upkeep of dialogue was and I simply had to ask him where he studied. It was surprising to learn that he didn’t and when I asked him why, he said that his parents didn’t let him because they were of the opinion that he had grown up and was ready to work and get married.

At the age of 14, his account seemed iffy and I was dubious of how much was true, especially because his sister beside him kept interrupting us by calling him a liar. This curiosity and dread led me to seek out his parents and after asking around and searching for him with the help of other community members, we were finally able to arrange a meeting. However, they were not alone. In the face of accusations by outsiders, they felt cornered and were prompted to gather other members of their family. It was then that they showed me their side of the coin.

In recent years, they had been having a hard time raising their youngest son; all they wanted him to do was finish his education and move onto bigger things. Instead he used to head on out in the pretense of attending his classes and skip school, sell his books and spend the returns on himself. Instead of studying he used to work for the local club which used to pay him small amounts for running their errands. He took it upon himself to fill his pockets as he felt he could not depend on his parents. They in turn, were scared of the company their child was keeping which forced their hand to take him to work along with them. They knew that their trade, as construction workers, was not what they wanted their child to grow up into. But the fear of the alternative forced their hand.

I felt compelled to help them out of this rutt and attempted to connect them to CHILDLINE, the national project supporting children in distress. For a while, what felt like good progress was being made, until a few weeks in, when I learnt that his parents sent him to their village. The unwanted attention made them wary of their child’s erratic behaviour and lead them to take the decision.

It felt like they were escaping their reality by simply removing their son from the environment they deemed unfit. But despite this, they couldn’t have possibly etched into stone his good behaviour, nor his better judgement of company. We never heard from him after that.

It’s in my opinion that adults aren’t the passive forces they feel they are when it comes to child-rearing. To correctly imbibe values in children, conditioning must begin at a tender age, not as damage control or precautionary measures at the edge of a cliff. And it’s not that they’re all-knowing and right, parents should also be counselled on a frequent basis on how to further counsel their wards and help them educate themselves and later single out a livelihood which can change their lives for the better.

In the case of this child, our intervention may have been too late, but it’s never the end when it comes to making decisions that can have a lasting impact of your life. Careers come and go, have the potential to tide over large portions of one’s lives and even dictate the circumstances one finds themselves in. Which is why children should not be a part of this world before their time. Wherever he is, I hope that he takes the better of two options whenever faced with it and is able to enjoy the sanctity of childhood before those years come to an end.

 

Riya Lakhmani, CRY Volunteer, Mumbai

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