Apart from mentioning that the authorities must expedite the rescue operations to prevent child labour, the women’s and child’s right activist also talked about the current reality of the Varanasi carpet industries and the consequences of abolishing child labour.
Going by the data from Census 2011, India had 10.1 million child labourers, including 5.6 million boys and 4.5 million girls. While it is self-explanatory that the 11-year-old data does not stand exactly true to the current time, the COVID-19 pandemic can surely be seen as a contributing element to the increased number. But can only strictly abolishing child labour be the solution to the problem? On the occasion of World Day Against Child Labour, Shruti Nagvanshi, a women’s and child’s rights activist, got candid with Molshree about her views. One of the founders of the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) based in Varanasi, Nagvanshi, and her team have been active in working for the health and rights of children in their district. Here is an excerpt from the interview where she talked about preventing child labour and the consequences of abolishing child labour in India.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) had mentioned the increased number of child labourers in India last year owing to COVID-19. How do you think the situation can be tackled?
The existence of child labour was persistent even before COVID-19 and as it was during the pandemic too. The solution is also similar in that the children should compulsorily be engaged in the education sector and with the social beneficiaries schemes. Secondly, it is important to speed up the process of rescue operations to help those who have already fallen into the trap. Thirdly, the rehabilitation centres need to ensure admitting rescued children for their development. The Act, the rules, and the bodies have already been there, but it is high time that all of these expedite the rescue operations for the already existing child labourers.
There is yet another mindset among the institutions and the civilians that if a child chooses to work, it should be left to them to decide, which is not right. It is important to understand that even if they are working by choice, it is further going to impact their growth. Moreover, the government needs to ensure that the labourers’ family members are employed so that their children do not have to work.
On an individual level, we can stop giving benefits to a child in return for work. Oftentimes, we offer our house helps an option of additional income if they bring their children and do stuff like cleaning and washing, and that needs to stop.
What about those children who lost their parents to the COVID-19 and have no means of livelihood?
The government of various states are taking care of the needs of those children who lost their parents in the pandemic. Even the government of Uttar Pradesh, with the intervention of the Supreme Court, are helping those children under special schemes. The only task is to get these children into such schemes.
However, the major problem observed is that the children are asked to produce the death certificates of their parents from the hospitals that must state the reason to be COVID-19. Many people from economically poor backgrounds could not afford the hospitals and passed away in their homes, and their children do not have those certificates. On the other hand, the lower-middle-class or the children, who are comparatively in a better situation, could produce the certificates, but they do not need the benefits of the schemes since their kins are taking care of them.
Hence, the needy do not have the certificates, and those who have, are in no need of the benefits, it becomes an utmost priority to discover those children and register them under an institution.
Do you think that the government will be able to provide employment opportunities to all the families of child labourers immediately after the abolishment?
Honestly, no. But the good thing is that the government is running various skill development initiatives to aid in the financial stability of the families of child labourers. Only when the parents are skilled and can earn for their families, child labour would be able to stop. Parents can opt for loans, but the problem is that they will be unable to pay the high-interest charges.
In addition, banks also hesitate to give it to the people belonging to the economically poor section. But it can’t be used as an excuse to not abolish child labour completely. It has to be the prime focus of the government bodies, and it needs to be strictly enforced.
Talking about the ban, what according to you will be the social consequences of strictly scrapping child labour in India?
When a child starts earning at an early age, they get used to the money, and if that is suddenly stopped, it might make them anxious and desperate for money even more. As little of a problem as it seems, the parents of the children will have a hard time dealing with the situation. The consequences of abolishing child labour could be many, but a strict ban is important.
Given that child labourers aid in the family income and support various small and large businesses, What according to you will be the economic consequences?
It will affect the family income in the initial days. The situation of businesses and industries that use children will not become worse and the reason is that these industries are bound by their nature to get more work for less amount of money. The sole reason for involving children is that they could pay them lesser than usual and get more from them, but that does not necessarily mean they cannot pay more to the skilled labourers. It is just the tendency to keep up with the minimum costs in production.
Even the small businesses that might appear unable to pay any adult and only hire children to keep their margin of profit in this process. It’s not that they cannot pay, but they want to spare the profits by indulging children in labour. Recently, what we have observed is that the Banaras carpet industries have allowed workers to take the work home. Now, it might look helpful for the labourers, but in actuality, it is an indirect way through which children get involved in the work. We came across labourers delegating their work to the children of their houses. Even if someone complains and the authorities go on checking the houses, their children are trained to get up and slip out of their places. So, in no way, businesses are or ever will be in an adverse situation unless they stop using such tricks.
How can the nutritional demands of the children be ensured after banning child labour?
The only way out is to put the children under an institution; government, non-government, or any social beneficiary initiative, so that all of their requirements can be taken care of by such bodies.
What should be the steps taken on the social and economic front to deal with the consequences of the abolishment of child labour in India?
To prevent the social consequences, it is important to help parents understand the importance of education. We have observed that people belonging to some castes considered higher in the society, even if poor, have started going to all extents to educate their children, including their girl child. However, visiting the houses of people belonging to the other caste has often led us to come across their children working while the parents choose to sit and rest. They still need to understand what is beneficial for their children. So, it is not a matter of being casteist but stating the observations.
Helping with the skill development and by providing the means of living to the parents can solve the financial issues of the families. The businesses must hire only skilled adult labourers. They will have to understand that it’s for their own good to get the work done by a skilled person. Some, who might suffer losses and can, in turn, affect the economy from the sudden strictness of the government, let me tell you that we (Indians) always find an additional route to everything. Now, it is for us to decide how much of that route should be ethical.