Here's an article published in 2005 contents of which are still relevant
BLIND TO THE CRIME OF CHILD-LABOUR* (Vijay Times, Edit-page article, April, 6, 2005)
TUCKED away at an insignificant corner of an inside page of Vijay Times of March 30 there was a heartrending story- in just three sentences. A nine-year-old girl, Nasima Begum, a domestic help in Balasore, Orissa, was subjected to inhuman torture by her employer to extract a confession from her that she had stolen a gold ornament. She sustained multiple burns when her employer stripped her and pressed hot iron on her body. And, the accused has fled the Balasore after the incident!
We are not shocked because it is not an isolated brutality that has taken us by shock and surprise. We have been hearing of such brutalities with such monotonous regularity that we shrug our shoulders and ask: "What's new?" The latest outrage is simply one more step, perhaps a leap forward, in our steady drive towards a state of conscienceless bliss where Satan is on the throne and all's right with the world.
There are hundreds of child-workers like Nasima in our neighbourhood. We have eyes to see, but we don't see the suffering of the domestic child-workers living and working right amongst us and around us. We have also ears to hear but do not hear their heartrending cries. It is to us, the impotent and passive spectators of the outrage, as it were, that the famous German playwright Bertlot Brecht addressed the following words: "Outside, men scream and you hear them not: outside flames burn and you see them not. Grandfather, when the Day of Judgment arrives, how will you stand"
Several studies have highlighted various types of exploitation of domestic child labour, which include physical and sexual abuse. This writer is reminded of the poignant story of the fifteen-year-old Uma, who was rescued by a voluntary organization in Bangalore two or three years ago. It was a story, too deep for tears, proving once again that we are up against a brutal and conscienceless society. Uma was branded with an iron rod on her back, hands and thighs, for allegedly not working properly. Her employer pinched her arms when she complained of being tired and denied food when she woke up late. If she screamed out loud, her 'Madam' would stuff her mouth with cloth so that no one could hear Uma screaming!
Child labour is an assault on the children's legitimate rights to education and freedom to grow in an atmosphere of love and care. It is a pity, though, that the Indian law frowns upon child labour yet Indian life freely practises it. Our founding fathers, dreaming of a brave new Bharat and its tryst with destiny, laid down the great testament of the Constitution where the value vision for future generations was projected. Deep concern for the material and moral welfare of the Juvenilia of India is underscored and social injustice is anathematized. Universal primary education is assured. Freedom from labour during the tender age is mandated.
Figures do not bring out the magnitude of suffering that has arrived for these millions of already impoverished children. Thousands of children work for almost 15 hours everyday in the most hazardous atmosphere because they have to pay off the loans borrowed by their parents from the employers. They suffer from many physical ailments and thus, these children are unable to mature to their full potential as adults. Commercial sexual exploitation is all pervasive and pernicious. Hunger and destitution have gripped them as never before. Disease and death stalk them. Most of them are undernourished and unhappy as they were in Dickens' days. However, much more alarming is the callous emotional vacuum that exists in our minds. It does not seem to have touched the nation. For us all, the serried columns of these unfortunate victims of hunger and privation, without homes and hope, bring no tears, not to speak of stirring conscience, if at all we still have an ounce of that precious commodity left within us. The truth is that the iron has entered into our soul. Just as the twilight zone to which most of us escape, forgetting we've left these children behind. The curse of the Pied Piper of Hamlin endures!
How many of us have taken even a small step in our own way to free children from servitude and enable them to grow and develop in an environment, which we expect for our own children? On the contrary, haven't many of us employed children below the age of 15 as domestic help? Quite often, the employers of domestic child labour justify it by saying that they provide food, shelter and clothing to those children who would otherwise beg on the streets. A whole spectrum of the sorrows of child-labourers remains to be exposed, a whole saga of their blood, toil, sweat and tears remains to be lived down.
The challenge of the child workers points to "the petty done; the undone vast". If the Supreme Court judgement of 1996 banning child labour in hazardous industries and regulating the employment of children in other fields, like domestic labour, has been implemented in letter and spirit, it would have done much to end the brutal exploitation of millions of children in the country. "And, how long, O Lord, how long," will the child of the 21st century have to wait to find himself/herself in that heaven of freedom of which Rabindranath Tagore has spoken in Gitanjali? __._,_.___
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