Poverty -> Lack of education & Child Labor -> Poverty. This is an unfortunate vicious cycle that is about to only get wider in India. I have been following the news on the proposed reform to India’s Child Labor Laws and no matter which way I look at it, it still makes no sense to me. India as a country is known to churn out some of the most brilliant minds in various fields of study and yet this amendment casts a shadow on that thought.
The Child Labor Prohibition Act currently prohibits the employment of children under the age of 14 in hazardous conditions. This proposed new amendment would now allow children under the age of 14 to work in “family businesses” in their “spare time”. At a time when we should be eradicating all form of child labor, this change only promises to push more and more children into the workforce rather than into schools.
The segment of the population that will be most affected by this law are those on and below the poverty line. The main goal of many of these families is to be able to earn enough money today for one square meal. They are not thinking about 15 years from now when their child will be an engineer or a manager or an officer. They are thinking about what their child can do today to help put food on the table, And this amendment will assist in that thinking.
The government’s claim is that by allowing children from a very young age to work in their family businesses, they will help alleviate their family’s poverty situation while at the same time gain “entrepreneurial experience”. Let’s face it, neither of that is going to happen. Little children are not going to help pole-vault their family from an impoverished life to that of comfort. They are merely the cheapest form of labor who are still unaware of their self-worth and can thus be exploited. By keeping them out of school, they will continue in the same path as their parents. And it will not be long before these children are removed from their homes and illegally employed under the pretense of “family business”.
If the government really wants to curb further poverty, they should provide more incentives for children to go to and stay in school rather than opening avenues for them to drop out. Equal education must be provided to all irrespective of gender and caste. In a country with an enormous population, change cannot happen overnight but is a slow and steady process.
As I write this, I am reminded of the several young girls I have seen working as domestic help; washing, cleaning and attending to the every need of the privileged. I am reminded of the several young boys I have seen working on the streets selling fruits, toys and more. This is a common sight not only in India but in most developing nations. And maybe because it is an all too common an image, we walk by without giving it more thought. The sad truth is that these children if asked, would all want to go to school. At an age when they should be rolling in the mud, they are helping pave the road.
They are where they are not by choice but by necessity. There are NGO’s out there that help with child labor and exploitation. But how can you and I in a very simple way make a difference? It is true that by giving the little boy who works outside your building a set of clothes or a meal nicely wrapped will make a huge difference in his life and bring a smile to his face. But maybe instead, we spend an hour .. maybe half hour on a regular basis, to teach him something we know. Maybe it’s to write, maybe it’s to count, maybe it’s to cook. Maybe it’s about nature, maybe it’s about science, maybe it’s about history. Maybe it’s to sing, maybe it’s to dance.
As Anthony Horowitz said, “Childhood, after all, is the first precious coin that poverty steals from a child.” Let’s help build a brighter world for those who only see the tunnel and no light at the end of it.