India has announced it will ban the employment
of children under the age of 14 years old in households and restaurants
beginning in October. Social activists are skeptical if the move will dent
the massive problem of child labor in the country.
Thirteen-year-old Reena Chander spends the day cleaning homes in an up
market Delhi neighborhood. She returns home in the evening to cook and
clean for her family. Reena says she began working two years ago.
She says her mother is sick, and she has no choice but to work both
outside and at home.
Life may be about to change for Reena and millions of young girls and
boys like her, who work as domestic help or in eateries and shops in
India's burgeoning cities.
The Labor Ministry announced this month that starting in October anyone
employing children under the age of 14 years old in homes, roadside
eateries, restaurants and motels could face a two-year prison term or a
fine of up to $425.
The government says the ban aims to help millions of children who are
often subjected to physical violence, psychological trauma and sexual
abuse as they work in homes and food stalls. It says those working in
highway eateries are the most vulnerable to sex and drug abuse.
Social activists welcome the ban, but question whether it will
eliminate child labor or improve life for youngsters like Reena.
India has already banned young workers from hazardous industries. But
tens of thousands of children remain at work in factories making
firecrackers, matches or glass.
Neera Burra, the author of a book on child labor, says the new labor
ban is not likely to show results unless it is coupled with a broader
strategy to address why children go to work.
"What are you going to do with these children? After all, a lot of
children who work as domestic servants come from villages, they are
brought by labor contractors through their own networks, they'll go
somewhere else because there is no blanket ban on child labor," said
Burra. "The right strategy is really to strengthen the formal school
system and make sure there is schooling available across the country for
Victoria Rialp, with the United Nation's children's fund, UNICEF,
agrees the issue is complex and cannot be fixed with a simple ban.
"Sometimes they end up worse than before they were rescued, and we know
that. We will want to remind everybody about taking a very focused child's
rights approach to this. You are looking at child's right to be with
family, child's right to education, child's right to play," she said.
"What we will be supporting and what we'll be doing is engaging open
discussion with government, with employers, with families."
Social activists say the key is giving children access to free primary
education and mid-day meals in school.
Millions of children in India never attend school, and tens of
thousands drop out. Schools are often far away from villages, the teaching
is of poor quality, and students get little help with books, lessons and
Reena's father, Mahesh Chander, says the ban will do little to help
families like his who need money brought in by children to supplement
meager earnings. He works as a street cleaner.
Mahesh says his monthly income of $50 barely feeds and clothes his four
children. He says he has never been able to afford schooling for them
because he has no money to buy books and uniforms.
The government says there are almost 13 million child laborers in
India. Child activists say the figure is much higher.