> I don’t know if any of you in other parts of India have come across this news items about how an 11-year old girl was brutally beaten black and blue by a doc in Lucknow, but if you haven’t, you must go read it now. The little girl was working as a domestic help at the doctor’s place and had apparently been sent there by his uncle who wanted her to earn a quick buck for him when her parents died. She was rescued by a neighbour.
I know what most of us find appalling in the story is the way she was beaten, but what’s sadder is that we don’t feel sad or surprised that a child like her would have to go to work at an age when she should be in school. And that’s because we’re just so used to seeing child labourers around us, we don’t even stop to think about them when we see one.
Last weekend, my friend celebrated her daughter’s third birthday with kids and mommies. In a conversation I can’t get out of my head, a young mother of a one and a half year old told me ruefully that maids for children were so difficult to come by. Her daughter was accompanied by a six-year boy at the party to take care of her! To quote what she said, “There’s so much awareness among maids also these days that they don’t want to send their daughters to work and want them to study instead.” “Good,” I said. “Ya,” she replied, “But bad for us. We don’t get any young girls to work for us.” I don’t think I can have another conversation with this woman who is educated and yet not enough to know that education is a right everyone should have.
First of all, I can’t understand how a parent can entrust their child to another child and think the latter will be equipped to take care of her. And I can’t understand how people can get over the guilt of exploiting an underprivileged child’s situation to serve their purpose. How do they do it?
It’s simple, isn’t it, that you wouldn’t want your child to go working somewhere even if life put you in the worse possible situation? Then why would you think you are “helping” a family by employing their child? When you let a child work for you, do not deceive yourself into believing that you’re actually supporting the child. You are not. You’re just encouraging child labour. Imagine for a moment what would happen to the child if you did not allow him to work for you? He would go and work some place else, you will say. But what if no one allows the child to work? Will the child not return home? Will the parents not be compelled to take care of him and provide for him? If they’ve brought the child into this world, they must take his responsibility.
Also, if you really want to help the child and his family, you can do it without bringing the child home to work. Send him to school, for instance. Pay his fees and it’s a paltry amount to pay in a government school. It may not cost more than what you spend on the cake on your child’s birthday. And surely, there’s enough surplus money in rich people’s pockets to feed a single child.
I would like to mention here that these are not just my personal views. Organisations working with street and working children also say that the only way to ensure that children get treated as children irrespective of their socio-economic background is by stopping their parents from sending them to work. Even though they don’t know it, children have rights too.
I have been working with one such organisation in Lucknow since its inception five years ago – Ehsaas, (the website is still under development). And I have never spoken about it here because the NGO was started and is run by my sister and she doesn’t need me to talk about her; her work speaks for itself. However, I thought it was pertinent to talk about the work that the NGO has been doing because it is through their work that I have been sensitised to this cause. I was as clueless as any one of you about what to do with children who’re out there working to make ends meet. But I was made to realise that paying them for their work isn’t going to solve the problem. Because these children laugh and smile and seem happy does not mean they are getting what’s their due. Without an education to help them in the latter years of life, we are ensuring that they never become part of the social mainstream. We are ensuring that the government continues to ignore them.
Sometimes, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and say that even though it makes me feel good to hand a ten rupee note (sometimes lesser) to the boy who works at the tea stall, the child who sells bottles at the railway platform, the girl who sells balloons at the crossing, it’s not the best thing for that child. And believe me when I say it’s not. What can you do instead? For one, be part of efforts to rehabilitate such children. Find out what social organisations in your city that work for them. And let them do what is best for the child. Also, as privileged sections of the society, we must force the policy-makers to take cognisance of these children. It will not happen overnight but gradually – by creating awareness and raising debates about the issue. After all, they’re as much citizens of India as you and I.
Don’t take a selfish shortcut. Take a stand.