Monday, October 16, 2006

A NEW LAW BUT...


As on 10th October 2006, another law has been added to the Indian Constitution. A law against Child Labour. A long awaited and a welcome legislation. The irony cannot be more obvious. The irony being, that how can our policy makers take so much time to come up with these important decisions and still fail to have foresight?

I am bad at statistics, so I cannot state what percent of the children of our beautiful country are stuck in some business establishment when they should be spreading their wings wide and flying towards literacy and yes, to a certain extent, the carefree period in their lives. The New Law provides for the abolishment of the exploitation of these children. But as always, the Indian Government has not taken any remedial measures. It is easy to say, “Don’t employ children below the age of 14, otherwise you could be liable for a heavy monetary fine, or worse, a year in prison.” But why don’t they have the grey matter to think WHAT are these children going to do? Most of them earn a LIVING through these jobs. Why would they leave their jobs and go to school when they THINK they are not getting any benefits out of it?

A TV report on a prominent news channel showed urchins sifting through garbage to look for leftovers to eat. Sure, they are happy they don’t have to work, but at the same time they have no clue where their next meal is going to come from. Is this what we want? That these children should wander aimlessly and dine from the garbage? That, my friend, is a worse punishment than tem working for someone. At least, that way they have a hope that they’ll not go hungry.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do not advocate child labor in any manner. I also disclose this fact that there were children working at home a few years ago. Now those children have grown and are no longer under the purview of this new Law. We all understand now that it is criminal to have children in our employ. But at the same time, I fail to understand why nothing is being done to improve conditions for them? You say you want them to go to school? Where are the schools??? Where is the infrastructure? Where are qualified teachers? Where is the money to access all this? And most importantly, where is the WILL on the children’s and their parents’ behalf to get them to school???

A child who has never been to school will never know the benefit of attending one. Let’s be honest – we never had a clue either when we were kids. And we also will accrue to the fact that once you start earning, in most people, the yearning for education takes a backseat. Complacency sets in, and one wonders, why do I need education when I’m doing so well without it? How does the Government propose to get these children to school, and with what motivation? There are mid-day meal schemes in South India, which provides children with one free meal if they attend school. That acts as a great motivation, because surveys have shown that attendance has gone up by 70% since the introduction of this scheme. But then the government again has to take it upon itself to ensure that the children don’t come for the food alone. There has to be a dedicated team of teachers & support staff to make the children’s visits a purposeful experience.

But oh the people & the Government !!! There has been corruption in the Mid-day meal schemes itself, with use of sub-standard cooking materials, children falling sick, exploitation of the subsidies provided- for other purposes. The same corruption perverts the entire system. How do you propose to brighten the children’s futures if there is so much of perversion at the grass root level? The Law to abolish Child Labor is a noble one, but how can you expect to reap ANY benefits without a contingency plan? Without a plausible backup?

There is no shame in admitting that in our country occasionally lacks in planning. This country yields the brightest minds, yet we don’t seem to have a concrete structure to deal with such inconsistencies. We gain so much from this new law, but until practicality is brushed into the system, we stand to lose more than we gain. Because I want these children to go to school, to enjoy their childhood, to be the brightest tomorrow of India, not eat out of garbage. Our President, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam calls them “Ignited Minds” and there should be no dousing of the same…

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