What’s the best thing about being a child? Think about it; if you were lucky enough to have a good childhood, you were free from all responsibility and enjoyed freedom while still being cared for. Every child deserves this. Unfortunately, more than a hundred million children around the world completely miss this stage. I am talking about the kids who go to work, years before they even turn eighteen.
Even as India continues to progress, the number of children engaged in child labour has decreased very slightly. And as terrible as it sounds, many of them are in your very city, maybe even in your neighbourhood. However, it is not a hopeless situation: the law is on their side (for the most part). Here’s how you can use it to do your bit and stop child labour.
Scenario 1: Kids begging or selling wares on the street
Traffic signals are a hotspot for underage children to try and make a living–either by begging or selling goods. Isn’t it heartbreaking to see them doing so when they should be at school instead? Worse, the streets are no place for children. Physical, verbal and sexual abuse are some of the horrors they have to deal with on a daily basis.
According to the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act (1959), begging is illegal for people of all ages. Anybody found begging can be either sent to a shelter home or jailed without trial. However, reporting them isn’t of any use to them for a number of reasons. In fact, even giving money isn’t going to help them all that much. According to a recent report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “At least 3,00,000 children across India are drugged, beaten and forced to beg every day, in what has become a multi-million rupee industry controlled by human trafficking cartels. Children are sometimes maimed or burned to elicit greater sympathy and get more alms.” So you see, if you spot a child with an adult, it is very likely that the adult is not a parent or relative, rather a trafficker using the kid as a prop. And he/she will be pocketing your money to buy themselves alcohol and drugs.
What you can do to help: When you see a child begging, do not give any money. Interact with them kindly. Feed them if they look like they need a good meal. Having a hot meal with someone who cares can really brighten up their day. Then, when they feel comfortable with you, ask them if you can take a photograph with them. Upload it to the Facebook page of ‘No More Missing, an organisation that helps unite trafficked children with their families. Of course, there is the issue of pedophiles having access to these photos, so make sure you send in an appropriate photo.
Scenario 2: Kids working at small eateries
Who hasn’t seen a ‘Chotu’ serving or cooking food at small hotels, roadside stalls, teashops, or dhabas? Just like the kids working at signals, they too survive in deplorable conditions. Although kids under 14 are banned by the Child Labor Act from working at these establishments, thousands of kids are employed and exploited. The National Social Audit (2009-2010) clearly states, “There is no doubt that domestic work and hotels/roadside eateries employ large numbers of children. Many of them are trafficked and many others migrate in search of a better life, leaving behind their childhood forever. The demand for children in these sectors is indeed very high while action against the employers is almost negligible. As with all laws, implementation of the ban on employment of children in the said two sectors has also been visibly very low.”
What you can do to help: Firstly, do not try to warn or inform the miscreants about the laws against child labour. Doing so will not humanise them, it will only make them hide these children from your sight and might even result in them harming you in some way. Simply call CHILDLINE at the toll free number 1098 and inform them of the situation. They will ensure the children are brought to safety. Alternatively, you can reach out to the nearest NGO. If you are afraid of the consequences of being a good samaritan, you can always keep your identity anonymous.
Scenario 3: The kids you don’t see
Stone quarries, brick kilns, fireworks, etc. there are many industries which employ child labour. Unfortunately, you cannot help the kids you can’t even see, right? Not quite true.
What you can do to help: Here’s where NGOs come in. Reputable organisations like CRY (Child Rights And You) and SMILE have a host of campaigns and events to help eradicate child labour and give them a normal childhood. Organisations like CHILDLINE, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Save The Children, and Prajwala also work actively to stop child trafficking. Volunteering and making donations are great ways to support their cause. You can also reach out to lesser-known local places, but make sure you do a background check first. If you don’t have money to invest, you can always engage in internet activism by signing petitions and raising awareness. Contrary to popular opinion, this does make a difference.
Delhi-based organisation HAQ’s report clearly states, “The laws dealing with child labour are weak–a bailable offence with a minimum of three months and a maximum of a year’s imprisonment or/and a fine of Rs 10,000 extending to Rs 20,000–the implementation of the law remains tardy. Taking recourse to the choice given, in almost all cases the employers are let off with a fine.”
So let’s step in, in whatever ways we can, and help curb child labour in our cities. It’s a shame that even in 2017, kids are not only being forced to function like adults, they are subjected to inhumane mistreatment as well. Are you doing your bit to help them?
Image Credit: IPleaders.in
Mahevash Shaikh is the twenty-something author of Busting Clichés. She loves to write, draw and laugh (among other things). You can find her using words and pictures to express herself and redefine the word "normal" at www.mahevashmuses.com.