CHENNAI: Excessive homework, latest gadgets and selfies — these are not of much concern for the group of kids from Arunodhaya Children’s Nagara Sabai. Instead, they talk about the Child Labour Act and its provisions, among others. Their latest initiative was a resolution passed against the recent Child Labour Amendment.
“The Act allows children to help in their family work after school hours. We do not think it is a good idea,” says 15-year-old Vignesh V, leader of the childrens’ group and an elected ward member. Coming from a family of fishermen, he studies in a local Tamil medium school. However, he speaks confidently about the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Juvenile Justice Act.
“If the law has a provision for allowing family enterprise, parents may ask us to help them after school. This will not only reduce our play time, but also not let us concentrate on studies,” he says.
The children have ward-level meetings four times a year, and there are 10 members for each ward. A total of 750 children in the age group of 12 to 18 age participated in the meeting, where the resolution was passed with the help of NGO Arunodhaya.
Besides depriving the children of their childhood, the resolution says the amendment will also force girl children to take care of their siblings and attend to family chores.
As per government records, children who involve in anti-social activities are mostly school dropouts or those exploited as child labourers. Child labour gives access to money to a child, which leads to the possibility of addiction to drugs, alcohol and tobacco. There is also a high risk of employers misusing the children by claiming that they are their family members. “The children do regular surveys and have helped in identifying child labourers several times,” says Virgil D’Samy, executive director, Arunodhaya. “Recently, they identified a girl at a site in Ennore who was engaged in domestic work. The girl was orphaned and her distant relatives took custody of her, making her work instead. We rescued the girl. This is an instance of how ‘family enterprise’ is a tricky area,” she says.
The kids also help identify issues like domestic abuse and dropouts.
“We are also worried about the Juvenile Justice Act. Because of one person’s mistake, all of us are affected,” says Vignesh. “Allowing work in cinema industry is also a problematic issue. Children will have rehearsals and have to work for late hours. It will definitely affect their studies as well as their general lifestyle. More importantly, we have to abide by the UNCRC law that classifies any one under 18 as a child — a fact that India has ignored in its recent Child Labour Amendment.”