The Sin of Child Labour

Published: 05th November 2014 06:06 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th November 2014 06:06 AM   |  A+A-


Like many of my countrymen I felt uncomfortable that I had not heard about Kailash Satyarthi, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize awardee, who is spearheading the movement against child labour and has made significant contribution to rescuing children in bonded labour and to creating awareness.  

This is the problem with most of us.  We are fed with so much information that we miss some issues of substance.

Maybe our personal filter is conditioned to perceive only the ephemeral and not the ethical. Satyarthi has won international accolades for his service but not a single award in India!

It is indeed a proud moment for India that the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 is shared by an Indian and a Pakistani.

R Natraj.jpgThe Norwegian Nobel Committee in its announcement stated,“The committee  has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 is to be awarded to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.

“Showing great personal courage, Kailash Satyarthi, maintaining Gandhi’s tradition, has headed various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain.

“Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations.  This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances.”

Terrorism and extremism are global issues and both India and Pakistan face this problem. Education and timely employment for the youth are important factors for economic growth, lack of which fuels terror networks. Unemployed and unemployable youth due to poor quality of education are core problems seldom effectively dealt with. 

Gonda district in Eastern UP has all the problems of a backward area. Satyarthi found some young Nepalese girls in a circus company performing shows at Kairnalganj. That was in June 2004. He decided to rescue the girls and confronted the owners but they beat him up. He was bleeding profusely and the police fortunately came in time to his rescue. The then SP of the district Thakur assisted Satyarthi in rescuing twelve Nepali girls held in bondage.

This is one of the many incidents where Satyarthi has proactively carried on his mission to rescue children from child labour.

We have seen boys and girls working in restaurants, picking rags, begging, carrying loads, working in match factories, assembling fireworks, handling explosive materials and so on. On city platforms little boys wait  to polish shoes and many extend their legs to get their shoes polished. If only they extended a hand to help the little ones the children would get to experience the childhood snatched from them by cruel fate. Satyarthi was deeply affected by the plight of children forced into child labour .

He left his job as an engineer and formed an organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) in 1980 through which he made painstaking efforts to carry on his mission. The BBA network is spread over eleven States covering nearly 400 villages. Thanks to his efforts, thousands of children have been rescued from work places. Satyarthi also created the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SAACS), a confluence of more than seven hundred civil society organisations.

It has been calculated that there are 168 million child labourers around the world today.  In 2000 the figure was 78 million higher.  Child labour is an issue of human trafficking in not just for domestic help or work in factories but also the  more dangerous induction of children into the sex trade. Nearly four million children have been forced into domestic labour by placement agencies in India. There are several such agencies in Delhi alone.

It is estimated that  the total market for child domestic labour in India is twice that in Delhi and suburbs  and the money involved runs to millions of rupees. The child sex trade  in India according to one report is worth $35 billion. A shocking figure indeed!

The Supreme Court has come down heavily on Bihar and Chhattisgarh, the States with the worst record in child trafficking. A study by Satyarthis’s organisation has revealed that in India a child goes missing every six minutes and over hundred thousand children go missing every year. Most of these children end up as labour in construction, carpet weaving, manufacturing sports goods, tobacco rolling. Reality hits very hard indeed.

One Satyarthi is not enough but the entire civil society has to get sensitised to this problem and make a concerted effort to abolish child labour. Charity begins at home and hence in our homes employing children as domestic help should never be resorted to. The law is also stringent as the penalty for employing child labour is Rs 20,000 and up to two years imprisonment. The time to act is now.


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