August 4, 2006
India's new ban on child labour welcome,
but forgets work in agriculture and at home
While the Indian government this week announced a ban on the employment of children as domestic servants and workers in roadside eateries, restaurants, teashops etc., the most widespread forms of child labour in India continue to be allowed. Roughly 70% of India’s estimated 100 million child labourers work in agriculture. In addition children are still permitted to do full-time work at home, including production work.
The campaign ‘Stop Child Labour – School is the best place to work’ which is active in six European countries with partners in India and other developing countries, applauds the decision of the Indian government, but it had hoped for more. Gerard Oonk, spokesperson of the campaign: ‘This is a very important step in the fight against child labour. Hopefully the Indian government will combine the ban with sound rehabilitation programmes, as many children are traumatized, and with programmes to get them into regular schools, either directly or through special bridge programmes’.
The Indian NGO M.V. Foundation, which is working in 6,000 villages of Andhra Pradesh as well as in the city of Hyderabad, is welcoming the decision of the Indian government. Chairperson Shantha Sinha commented that ‘Thus far we had no legal options in cases were we came across children working as domestic servants. Now we do.’ In an article written in reaction to the government decision, Shantha Sinha says that ‘in all 34 cases of domestic child labour taken up by M.V. Foundation last year, the employers among whom were school teachers, nurses, officials and businessmen had an access to the Chief Minister’s office to hush up the case’. Sinha however feels that the government should now take the next steps: ‘A coordinated effort between the labour, police, revenue and education department at the local level must provide immediate relief to the children rescued under the Act.’
Although there are no official figures, NGOs in India estimate that around 20 million children are working in domestic child labour and eateries, teashops, hotels etc. The ban on this work has been imposed under the Child labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 which prohibits a specific number of hazardous forms of child labour. Reasons given for the present ban are: frequent physical violence, psychological traumas and ‘at some times’ sexual abuse. Also long working hours are mentioned.
Though the range of hazardous occupations has now been expanded under the Child labour Act, most child labourers including those working in agriculture, continue to be ‘regulated’ to an official maximum of 6 hours a day. Working in agriculture, while not officially recognized as such, is hazardous as well. Working days are normally long and there is frequent exposure to pesticides. All work done at home, including productive work like stitching footballs, making incense sticks or rolling cigarettes, is not regulated at all by the Act.
Indian civil society organizations, including the M.V. Foundation, have presented a petition to the Supreme Court stating that the present Child labour Act is inconsistent with the Constitutional right to education. The Supreme Court has given a preliminary positive response but the final verdict is still awaited.
Gerard Oonk (India Committee of the Netherlands): tel. +31(0)30-2321340, email: email@example.com
Antje Paulsen (German Agro-Action): tel. +49(0)228-2288205
Lizzy Noone (Concern): tel. +353(0)1-4177740, email: Lizzy.Noone@concern.net
* ‘Stop Child Labour – School is the best place to work’ is a campaign with Alliance 2015 partners in 6 European countries as well as 3 additional Dutch organizations. The campaign is of the opinion that all forms of child labour should be banned. Website: http://www.schoolisthebestplacetowork.org