Child rights

The amended child labour law will ensure that the poorest kids will continue to struggle in school

Making it legal for children to work in family enterprises after school indicates that the children of the poor are not worth the effort.

Thirteen-year-old Vishal has been in Delhi for two years. His parents sent him to a maternal uncle’s home in the expectation that a big city school would give their oldest child a better education. He is enrolled at a Municipal Corporation of Delhi school.

Several afternoons a week, and every weekend, Vishal can be found at his uncle’s vegetable stall near one of south Delhi’s government staff colonies. His quick mental calculations impress most customers. A few chide his uncle for making Vishal work instead of going home after school to do what other children do – rest, play, do homework.

The uncle always has a ready excuse: “It's only for today, my assistant is on leave…he was getting bored alone at home.”

Unique India?

Under the amended child labour law, passed by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, what Vishal is made to do is entirely legal. Helping in the family home or enterprises after school hours is now protected by law.

Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said India was unique and the law should reflect economic reality. He cited his own example of having helped his single mother with housework and working at her onion stall during vacations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has spoken countless times about helping his uncle with his railway station tea stall.

They are undoubtedly stellar examples of how far talent and determination can take you. But, in the years Modi and Dattatreya were in school, the majority of Indian children were not enrolled in school, and many were in full-time work.

So, however difficult their personal circumstances, they were better placed than the majority of their compatriots who had no opportunity to go to school.

Today, because of the Right to Education Act, 2009, which mandates the right to free and compulsory education for all children aged six to 14, most children are enrolled in school. But, being enrolled in school is not an advantage in of itself.

Impact on learning

Minister Dattatreya told Parliament that the amended law was made keeping in mind the Right To Education Act. Given that the provisions permitting work in homes and family enterprises stipulates this has to be “after school hours”, it might seem there is no conflict.

However, had the government asked those tasked with children’s education if the legal protection for after-school work was in the spirit of the Right To Education Act, it would have heard a resounding NO.

There is enough documented evidence that shows a direct correlation between learning levels, school completion rates and family income, circumstances and caste. With few exceptions, children of the poorest are more likely to attend school irregularly and hence struggle with learning and drop out early.

In short, the poorest receive the poorest education. Teachers cite the lack of family support or interest in education as the biggest difference between children who persist with formal learning and those who do not.

Just days before the Rajya Sabha passed the amended Child Labour Bill, at a meeting of mostly rural primary school teachers in Bhiwani, Haryana, teacher after teacher spoke of children of poor parents who “send them out to graze the cattle as soon as they go home” or “take them along to help them with their jobs” or “come late or not at all during the harvest”. These were the children, they said, who learnt the slowest and found it hardest to gain or retain rudimentary reading, writing or arithmetic skills.

In big city government primary schools too, teachers find that their most troubled children, the most irregular and inattentive in school, come from homes where economic circumstances find them cooking or cleaning or minding younger siblings or going out to help in the “family enterprise” – for example vending or “helping their mothers” clean other people’s homes. Primary school teachers in Delhi report that girls as young as eight or 10 “help their mothers” in such work.

As it is the government school system, where the poorest children are enrolled, has little empathy with their circumstances. Children of the working poor are, in the main, seen as no-hopers who will go the way of their parents and are not worth the effort.

What the amended child labour law does is confirm their prejudice. It is, as Dattatreya told Parliament, India’s unique social and economic condition. In supporting the amendment the government (and the mostly absent Opposition) has signaled it wants to keep this uniqueness intact. In bare bone terms it amounts to the State abandoning its most vulnerable children and not giving them a shot at a basic education.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Get ready for an 80-hour shopping marathon

Here are some tips that’ll help you take the lead.

Starting 16th July at 4:00pm, Flipkart will be hosting its Big Shopping Days sale over 3 days (till 19th July). This mega online shopping event is just what a sale should be, promising not just the best discounts but also buying options such as no cost EMIs, buyback guarantee and product exchanges. A shopping festival this big, packed with deals that you can’t get yourself to refuse, can get overwhelming. So don’t worry, we’re here to tell you why Big Shopping Days is the only sale you need, with these helpful hints and highlights.

Samsung Galaxy On Nxt (64 GB)

A host of entertainment options, latest security features and a 13 MP rear camera that has mastered light come packed in sleek metal unibody. The sale offers an almost 40% discount on the price. Moreover, there is a buyback guarantee which is part of the deal.

Original price: Rs. 17,900

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Samsung 32 inches HD Ready LED TV

Another blockbuster deal in the sale catalogue is this audio and visual delight. Apart from a discount of 41%, the deal promises no-cost EMIs up to 12 months.

Original price: Rs. 28,890

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Intel Core I3 equipped laptops

These laptops will make a thoughtful college send-off gift or any gift for that matter. Since the festive season is around the corner, you might want to make use of this sale to bring your A-game to family festivities.

Original price: Rs. 25,590

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 21,900

Fashion

If you’ve been planning a mid-year wardrobe refresh, Flipkart’s got you covered. The Big Shopping Days offer 50% to 80% discount on men’s clothing. You can pick from a host of top brands including Adidas and Wrangler.

With more sale hours, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days sale ensures we can spend more time perusing and purchasing these deals. Apart from the above-mentioned products, you can expect up to 80% discount across categories including mobiles, appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty, home and furniture.

Features like blockbuster deals that are refreshed every 8 hours along with a price crash, rush hour deals from 4-6 PM on the starting day and first-time product discounts makes this a shopping experience that will have you exclaiming “Sale ho to aisi! (warna na ho)”

Set your reminders and mark your calendar, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days starts 16th July, 4 PM and end on 19th July. To participate in 80 hours of shopping madness, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Flipkart and not by the Scroll editorial team.