One thing I find difficult to get used to in India is seeing children at work. The young boy who rides a bicycle in the mornings delivering milk can’t be over 13. Same with the kids in shorts and bare feet who clear tables and mop floors in restaurants. The rag pickers who roam the streets and rummage through garbage for plastic and other salvageable items are often children. Children are also employed on farms, in hotels, tea shops, and factories. Many young girls work as maids in private homes.
Today’s paper reported that over 10.5 million children work in India, while 60 million children are neither in work or at school. The law on child labour prohibits the employment of children under 14 in ‘hazardous’ jobs, which includes domestic, hotel and restaurant work, but it is not enforced and children at work, like the image above, continues to be a familiar sight. Not only are they missing out on a childhood and education, but with no one to fend for them, these children are often subject to exploitation and abuse at the hands of their unscrupulous employers.
Many of these children’s parents cannot afford to pay for their schooling, and to make ends meet, they send them to work so that they can bring home a little extra income. The only way to give these children a future is to send them to school. Some employers of domestic staff are willing to pay for the schooling of their employees’ children. There are also many NGOs working to eradicate child labour by putting working children in school and offering support to families so that their children can stay in school. Some of these organisations include the Lovedale Foundation, the MV Foundation and the Parikrma Foundation, and there are many others. The cost of sending a child to school for a year is 7090 rupees (123 EUR / 185 CAD / 179 USD). For many of us, this is a small price to pay for the future of a child, a family, a country.
But it’s only through enforcement of the child labour law, responsibility being taken on the part of employers to respect the rights of children, as well as the responsibility of the government to support education for the underprivileged that the ‘sad spectacle’ pictured above will become a less familiar sight.