Global Report - A ResponseMay 2006
I must at the outset thank the ILO for giving me an opportunity to be a part of the release of the Global Report. In stating that it is possible to ‘end child labour’ and that it is ‘within the reach’, ILO the sole international agency on behalf of the poor and the working class resonates with the aspirations of millions of poor parents and their children in India, and in all the other countries where children face a similar predicament.
Poor parents- Explosive Demand for Education
Market Demand for Child Labour
Need to address ALL forms of Child Labor and ILO
Unless a policy of abolishing child labour in all its forms is made, a new set of children occupying the ‘hazardous’ labour force will not be prevented. Further, it is only when the rights of ALL children to be away from work and at school become a public issue that children in armed conflict, sex work and in illicit activities will find a congenial environment that would accept them back into the fore of the society. Without a social norm in favor of children’s right to education such children would find it difficult, if not impossible to get reintegrated into the society without being stigmatized and tabooed. It is therefore impractical to focus on children in only certain sectors alone, as long as a larger environment that accepts child labour in all its forms continues to exist.
It is the responsibility of the ILO to act as a conscience keeper and provider of vision to categorically state that every child must be in school in order to abolish child labour in all its forms. The ILO rightly states in its report that ‘perhaps the greatest progress has been made in recognizing the link between child labour elimination and education for all’ and that action should be taken against child labour in order to realize the right to education. This, along with the Minimum Age Convention 138, must become the basis for laying out plans of action in a systematic manner.
Child Labor Integral to Daily Lives of All
Young girls work under scorching heat, with blistering sore feet dug into the marshy land; these children do the sowing, weeding, harvesting of vegetables, lentils, cooking oils and all the food we relish. When they are not working in the fields they are burdened with the monotony of work at home cooking, fetching water, carrying siblings and doing all the domestic chores. Children are also engaged in tending to cattle, sheep, goats, in fishing and work in the poultry, contributing to producing milk and milk products, and all other food items. Children’s labor is mixed in most of the food we eat in our country.
Our homes, offices, business centers, entertainment places, in fact every building owes its creation to children and at the cost of their childhood. With growing demand in the building and construction industry, children leave their villages to work on sites without water, sanitation and shelter, around brick kilns lifting head loads, brick by brick on the head and piling clay moulds to bake under the heat and dust.
The homes of most middle and upper classes too depend on young girls and boys working as domestic servants. They are either full time workers trafficked from their homes or part time workers living with their parents in the same town. There is an undercurrent of suspicion about their honesty and are rebuked more often than not for being lax and untidy in their chores.
However, if one were to focus on children in the worst forms of labour, none of these children would find their way to schools at least until 2016.
Government of India-What must be done?
It is in this context that I see the role for the ILO as a leader of a movement against child labor in all its forms. It must galvanize the energies of one and all in support of children’s right to education as a non-negotiable. It can privilege multiple layers in the society from local to global, trade unions, teachers unions and employers associations, governments and multilateral donor agencies to give a wholehearted message for abolition of child labor. In fact it is positioned in a manner that it can transcend all other interests in the best interest of the children and their rights. It must take the voices and aspirations of the poor for educating their children to those in power and establishment. And in doing so it would certainly build the strength, to end child labor in all its forms giving children their right to education.
The full report of the ILO is availaible on www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/ilc/ilc95/pdf/rep-i-b.pdf.