NEW DELHI, July 21: In response to an appeal by Save the Children on banning all forms of child labour, PMs wife Gursharan Kaur, actor Farooque Shaikh, Dr Shantha Sinha Chairperson NCPCR Save the Children Chairman Harpal Singh, NDTV Managing Editor Sonia Singh and a number of other eminent people on Saturday appealed for putting an end to child labour. Ms Kaur and Mr Shaikh were among others who signed a pledge titled “Ban all forms of child labour”. Ms Kaur signed with the words, “I commit”. She said, “Our children, all children should get a chance to study, and do well in life.” Ms Kaur and others were participating in ‘India Against Child Labour’ national summit organised by Save the Children. Other participants in the Summit included Dr Shantha Sinha, Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Bhuvan Ribhu from Bachpan Bachao Andolan. A number of children from various states of India who have worked and suffered abuse as a result of it in the past, but have now succesffuuly been rescued and rehabilitated and are now on their way to getting an education, issued another appeal – to the government and society – to bring an end to all forms of child labour.
Ms Kaur was moved by the testimonies of children three of whom – Ranjuta from Odisha who was a domestic worker in Hyderabad, Arjun who worked in the cotton fields of Maharashtra, and Aalim, who has grown up on the streets of Delhi and goes to a Save the children-supported centre in Nehru Place where he is being educated (please see the attached publication “Breaking Free”). “We have to wake up. We have to make sure that no one employs children,” she said.
Munish Sharma, a child from Jammu and Kashmir, presented a demand by children, in the form of memorandum, which will be presented to all Members of Parliament. The memorandum includes a demand for ban on all forms of child labour; strict punishment for employers; an opportunity for children to identify and develop their talents. “We want good hospitals where we can be treated, good schools to study in, employment for our parents and special care for orphans,” said Munish amid a resounding applause from the children and grown-ups alike.
Save the Children and other organisations have been campaigning for an amendment of the current Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act which in its current form does not prohibit employment of children in agriculture, no matter how young they are, and does not list domestic labour and various other occupations in the ‘hazardous category’.
“The effort required is enormous. It needs to cut across communities, governments and individuals,” said. Ms Kaur said, “It is unfortunate that child labour still exists in India, largely due to poverty.” She said that families who let their children work, sometimes even compelling them to give up work, had a critical role to play in stopping child labour.
Elaborating on the appeal, Mr Harpal Singh said that not only should we not employ children, but also not visit those in whose homes children may be working. “We should labour for children, and not have children labour for us. We should boycott products that use child labour, families that employ children. Each of us needs to have a personal stand against child labour,” he said.
Of the view that banning domestic work was easy and should be done immediately, Mr Shaikh said, “This is a simple and straightforward issue and should be easily done. Child labour in agriculture is a little more complex since many children do work in their families’ fields,” he said. Mr Shaikh also said that systems need to be created across India for enabling people to inform against employment of children without fear. “Like you have a crime against women cell, do we have a crime against children cell?” he asked. He said a media campaign with the support of Doordarshan and private channels would go a long way in ensuring that people realised that child labour was not acceptable.
Sonia Singh said the media had not done enough against child labour. She cited the example of Kallu, a child who recently died due to beating by his employer in East Delhi. “We ran the story on our channel, but not to the extent we would have liked as the news competed against other news,” she said. Ms Singh said the public often did not wish to watch unhappy stories. She appealed to the audience not “not to turn away when you feel uncomfortable,” “As a young reporter I travelled to Mirzapur to report on working children. When the western media campaigned and buyers stopped buying products made with child labour, their employment stopped,” she said, pointing out the need for a popular support to the movement against child labour.
Ms Sinha said many urban families felt that they were doing children (they employ at home) a favour by keeping them in their own homes which are comfortable. “ However ,they are not doing any favour to the child; as the child is captive and entrapped in that home however comfortable; and is happier in her own home , however poor “ she said, demanding an end to children’s employment.