>Wrongs and Child Rights

> 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.

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24 responses »

  1. >Education does not mean enlightenment…I know a lot of 'educated' people who continue to employ minor despite the law against it…They just don't care and are always ready with justifications…

  2. >Its sad… and while there are solutions, there are no immediate ones, and no all encompassing ones.I once had a maid (the daughter of construction workers) who looked barely into her teens , but whose parents assured me she was 'old enough' She was a sweet girl and smart and with an education behind her would have done very well. But the last I saw her, she was working in a construction site…This was pre Sonny boy. I too fail to understand how one can entrust your child to another child.

  3. >You are so right. Most of us take a a very easy shortcut saying "If I don't hire, some one else will"Last year I was in India, my mother-in-law had hired a 10 yr old boy as domestic help and it always broke my heart when I saw that kid looking keenly at all the books lying around, trying to read the newspaper whenever he got a minute to spare. I tried to get him some books to read, but I was pushed back saying "If he'll read the books, then when will he work"And I did nothing, just nothing else!! Me too guilty !

  4. >Agree 100% with you. But remember when you or I or others do not hire an underage child it does not mean the parents automatically care for their child. More prevalent are cases where they put them to the task of begging, throw them out on the streets or are sold off into prostitution. I come from a state where this is more often the case. This child is always still seen as a burden unless he or she is bringing in an income for the family( a case of having one too many children in the first place).Noww youe second solution works best- getting involved in rehabilating or raising these children. Everyone of us today who are working and educated can surely contribute to the cost of educating and feed atleast one child- atleast one!!! Now ensuring the parents actually allow the child to benefit from such largesse is in itself many a times daunting. Having worked with NGOs in education I know just how much. But you still have to try…..and hopefully not be disillusioned.If you are going to hire a child to work in your home ensure she/he goes to school or is trained in a profession suited to hiis/her skill and personality.My mother after refusing to hire underage help for amny years finally gave in when she realised the families simply put them to work elsewhere in awfully dehumanising conditions and hired 2 girls who went on to do their commerce from the college in our town. One today is an accountant and the other runs her own posh tailoring business. They are very happy that my mother rescued them from their families and she also gave them away in marriage. They insisted.Deepa

  5. >So I'm a new reader, but this post was beautiful. It touched nerves that have lain hidden for the longest time. I agree with the above commentor though, a lot of the times thee children live better lives when they work.

  6. >there is a movie in Tamil called Kutti which addresses this issue. A beautiful movie with a very sad yet a 'slap in the face' message about a carefree little village girl who is forced to work as a domestic help in a family in the city. What happens to her is heart melting yet not far from reality…See if you can find a copy with subtitles. Its worth a watch.

  7. >Absolutely agree with you D. We should look at the bigger picture… which looks gloomy today, but if we all refuse to employ children, we will see them all going to school. Only then will the parents stop seeing them as a source of income. The last line is really moving 'After all, they're as much citizens of India as you and I.'

  8. >I thought there was a law against child labour in India? Where one could report the case should they see one?Then there was the whole rehabilitation issue to provide the said families with other sources of income… which I think is being sorted out?? Or am I losing touch in the current affairs from back home.It's one of the ghosts that plague the country and it'll definitely not disappear in a while. Maybe, some day it will.. completely.

  9. >@Sraboney: Such unsatisfactory justifications, aren't they?@Monika, Ansh: Time to go beyond lip service.@JLT: Exactly – it's a slow process, yes, but that does not mean we must not begin at all.@DewdropDream: Thanks for letting me know 🙂 I'm mostly okay. How're you doing? @How do: True, never thought of it like that though.

  10. >@Dil Se: That sounds horrible :(@Deepa: I agree with some things you've said there and disagree with others. I know when you or I refuse to hire a minor for help, the parents will try to find alternative employment for him. Which is exactly why I say we should COLLECTIVELY refuse to either employ or give to child beggars. If the children stop becoming a source of income for the family, they may be sent to school, or at least the family will be discouraged from producing more children they cannot provide for. I agree, mobilising people to understand child rights, one of them being education, is definitely a daunting task.And I do not understand the "if you are going to hire a child…" at all. Why should you?? What's the justification for that? Even if you are providing education to that child, you are still encouraging and supporting child labour. If you can afford to, why not pay for his or her education irrespective of whether he comes to work for you. Because children have rights other than education as well. What kind of a childhood can a child have if all she does is study and work? Would you give your child a similar life? My point is that education is only one of the rights that children have. Happiness is another.@H: Thank you. As for Deepa's comment, I'd say the same thing to you as I have said to her/@celestialrays: Will try to get a copy.@IHM: Yes, that's exactly the point.@J: You are losing touch with things back home. Remember, here we have laws that never get enforced?!

  11. >Hi D,I don't think I said anywhere in my previous comment that one must pay such a child's education or food only if she/he comes to work for you. You are mistaken or weren't reading it right. Infact, this is what I said"Now your second solution works best- getting involved in rehabilating or raising these children. Everyone of us today who are working and educated can surely contribute to the cost of educating and feed atleast one child- atleast one!!! "The above does not have a caveat anywhere in it which says do the above only if you hire them as help. That is rubbish and you are playing with my words. Would suggest you ready comments with greater care. Also, do not make personal allusion by bringing my child into it. If I didn't care enough for children regardless of whose they are I wouldn't bother commenting here at all. For the record my son does earn money mowing our neighbour's lawns and raking their yards and we're teaching him the dignity of labour in doing a task well no matter how menial or small. Again, not hiring them does not necessarily mean the parents will be forced or even WILL send them to school. What made you think that? On the contrary as enough statistics show( per Asha foundation's work in child labour) most girls are then forced into prostitution or sold off. Don't know enough on what would happen to the boys though because where I come from the poor folk never send the boys to work as domestics. It's only always the girls.Also, if you think that offering to pay for their schooling and upkeep means the parents will actually allow that to happen in all cases is very naive.My mother works for a corporate initiative in education and rehabilitation in the rural areas of my state. Unless, you take the children away from the parents( which you can do only if there is proof of abuse) the parents refuse to send the daughters to school even if it is fully paid for by the patron company and given all her/his meals. They simply do not see the point in it. It is a long and arduous process and in the meanwhile my mother continues to lose the little girls she has managed to get started on a path to formal learning. She often has requests from the mothers to get their daughters placed in a good home as a domestic and be allowed an education at the same time because the fathers won't let it happen otherwise. So in short the family doesn't mind if the education goes hand in hand with the offspring earning an income.My husband and I, five years,built and started a school based on the montessori system in Valpoi which is among the most underprivileged areas of Goa and we provide all our children 4 wholesome meals a day apart from dormitory facilities for those who would prefer to be boarders because of abuse at home. Our only condition when admitting a child is that the child is not being used by the family to make an income. This doesn't always work because once the child goes home the ball is in the parenal court. But even when we find out the child might be working a few hours someplace we have no heart to throw the child out but instead we try and work it out with the parents. We also loose many children 4th grade onwards as the parents pull them out to work in the fields despite much cajoling and reasoning.The children love studying there and it is my pleasure to go down every year in summer and teach there. I am also in the process of adopting a darling five year old from there and inshaallah she will be with us sometime mid next year.I will say no more on this.Deepa

  12. >@Deepa: I really appreciate that there are people like you who really care for and understand the issue I'm talking about.I also understand that you are not saying we must pay for a child's education only if he or she comes to work for us. But what I'm trying to say is that even if you pay for the child's education and let him continue to work for you, it is still child labour. You see the difference?It's alright if you disagree with me but my point is that children – yours, mine or anyone else's – have a right to happiness, not just a right to education. I also understand the tedious and difficult processes involved in changing mindsets and am with you on every word you say. But please understand that what I'm talking about are not just initiatives in the field of education but initiatives in the field of social welfare involving marginalised children.And Deepa, I DO read comments carefully and rest assured, I have no interest in playing with anyone's words except mine. As I mentioned in my previous comment, I was responding to the bit about "If you going to hire a child…" Perhaps, there was some confusion but I hope it's clear now.And it's entirely your wish to say anything further on this or not. But a healthy debate never did anyone harm, I believe.

  13. >one of my friends has a 2 year old son. he and his wife have 'adopted' another child in the sense, they provide for her bringing up until she reaches the age of 18. it includes, food, clothes, education and even toys. she is an orphan, but now she can write to her adopted parents, brother even meet them when they go to India. their home and conditions were not conducive to bring a child in, but they still are doing what they can…

  14. >Totally agree. i had a temp maid coming in who got her 10-11 year old daughter along to do work with her. I chewed her brains and I told her to send her to school instead and refused to allow her to do anything at my place. Hell, one tiny, skinny girl doing household chores is just not on. I happened to rant about this to a neighbour so she gave me a "what if you dont do it, someone else will – at least this way they earn money" or some such nonsense. Mind you, educated and all that. I am appalled by the KIDS they have looking after kids everytime i go for a walk downstairs. apparently the idea is "young girls have more energy to look after kids – they run better etc etc". Fortunately, I have anti-child labour folks on both sides of the family – the grandma in law started a school in amravati for underpriviledged girls and stuff, my uncle teaches slum kids at home. so dont have to see this in the family at any rate

  15. >"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."Absolutely. And yes, 'collective' effort in not employing children should work. Great post.

  16. >@celestialrays: What a wonderful story! We need more such people in this world.@IHM: Thank you! I had no idea…@Cynic in Wonderland: Oh yes, there's this whole reasoning that adolescent girls tend to be better care-takers for children than older girls! By that logic, would we be encouraging girls in their teens to have babies?@Shail: Thank you!

  17. >very well said/ superb post… When i saw these type of people who employs a kid/minor as their babies caretaker should understand the fact that they are spoiling the future. Who knows the same minor if provided with good education may actually become a Gandhi/Bill gates or some one the world admires and follows or the least like us who can live on his own!!!.. Most of these kids are little girls and if a girl is educated then her entire family will be "educated".. AND Congratulate ur sis.. She is doing a great job..

  18. >I have an example to share. We had a couple helping us with our household work. The man worked as a gardner and did other running out errands.. While his wife cleaned the house, kitchen and other help in the kitchen. My grandfather made sure that their daughter was admitted to the school close to our house. Even when she turned 5, they refused to send her to school. My nanaji paid for her fees, uniform, books and made sure she attended the school everyday. Infact he used to ask that man, if the child ever missed her school and was at home.

  19. >What makes you think that education is the only means to happiness of a child? There are many children who drop out from schools on their own. Not every child is interested in conventional education.child labour is bad when its not in proportion to the physical abilities of the child. How is that carrying a bagful of books, being made to sit in the same chair same class for hours together , staring at a board silently and pouring at books exerting the eyes and fingers alone, considered the doorway to happiness of a child? Who measured this happiness?It is this rigid mentality that has forced parents to pressurise their uninterested children to undergo the increasing pressures of studies and get stuck in uninspiring jobs. Not every educated person gets to sit in the seat of authority or riches. lifecoping skills are much more important for happiness than degrees.

  20. >@Kris: You're right – educating girls and women is laying the foundation for an educated society.@Soulmate: What an inspiring example!@Anon: When did I say education is the only means to a child's happiness? But wouldn't you say that an educated person has a greater advantage in the world than an uneducated person?And education does not mean merely sitting in class and staring at the board. It means a development of the mental and physical faculties of a child through a learning process that will also provide him with "lifecoping skills" that you talk about.

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