People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 36

September 14 , 2008





MEDIAPERSONS, labour experts, trade unionists and jurists called for a concerted effort to eradicate the problems of child labour which was robbing millions of the country’s children of their childhood and preventing them from realising their full potential.

A workshop on “Media and Child Labour”, organised by the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) in cooperation with the International Labour Organistion (ILO) and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) was held in New Delhi on September 10. CITU secretary Ardhendu Dakshi, CITU Delhi unit president Sudhir Kumar, senior advocate Ashok Agarwal, senior columnist Bharat Dogra, senior journalist Amit Prakash, Sujata Madhok and S K Pande of DUJ attended the workshop.

Inaugurating the workshop, CITU president Dr M K Pandhe said child labour cannot be abolished as along as there was poverty. The problem cannot be tackled by just enacting law as “it does not touch even the fringe of the cause of the existence of child labour” Over 20 years ago, India passed a law to prohibit child labour in hazardous industries but practical experience showed that child labour in these industries had increased after adoption of the law, he said adding that the urge to survive is much more powerful than the threat to dangerous working conditions.

No child would be happy to work at low wages. Poverty of the parents has shattered their dreams for a better life. The social system has callously neglected the problem of a poor child and denied the opportunity to study and decide his or her own destiny,” he said.

Speaking about the crucial role the media can play in rooting out the evil, Pandhe said since the question of elimination of child labour was closely linked with the question of progressive social transformation, media campaign in the direction of exposing the dangerous consequences of the prevalence of child labour in overall social development would certainly yield positive results.

In her keynote address, Leyla Tegmo Reddy of ILO said the rapid ratification of the ILO conventions on child labour spoke of the political will that was evident adding that “however, India is yet to ratify these conventions.” Lauding media’s role in creating awareness about the problem, she said “with your support in getting out the right messages as widely as possible, the end to child labour in India will be in reach”. She assured the media all help from the ILO in this regard.

CITU general secretary and former West Bengal labour minister and MP Mohd. Amin said that if every adult worker has fixed working hours and gets a fair wage, he would not send his children to work and would educate them. Particularly focusing on the plight of children working in the stone-crushing and cement industry, he said they die a slow death as within three years of their working life, they fall victim to silicosis, stressing the need for combined effort by media and trade unions to eliminate child labour.

DUJ president S K Pande, said that “amongst children, who are often forced to work, the worst affected are those who are away from the family and work in small workshops, dhabas etc. Their status is like bonded labourers often working in return for meager food and shelter and only occasional payments are paid directly to the parents. It is quite well known that even in Delhi we have raids conducted to rescue bonded child labourers, but these exercises are far and few in between, often just to catch the glare of 24x7 networks. In any case the labour authorities do not have adequate number of staff with work being done by labour inspectors. Today, India has largest number of child labourers in the world and it is estimated to touch around 12 crore. Children are being lured to satisfy the lust and greed of rich maniacs. Children are often underpaid, undernourished, dehumanised and in some cases even used in crime syndicates. This is 60 years after freedom, he lamented.

Sujata Madhok, chairperson of the DUJ Gender Council, said since there was hardly any tradition of labour reportage, journalists are rarely equipped to cover these issues with the seriousness they deserve. “There is too little analysis, too few critiques of government schemes and budget for children and the tokenism they reflect. There is too little understanding of the problems raised by the interface of child rights and labour laws”, she said.

Senior journalist, specialising in developmental and labour issues, Bharat Dogra , emphasised the need for putting issues in proper perspective while reporting matters pertaining to the child labour. Warning against the games played by vested interests, he cited the example of the carpet industry where the campaign against child labour had at one stage “forced it to collapse” . Similarly, expose of begging sometimes tend to become “anti-begging, anti-poor”.

Well known advocate Ashok Aggarwal, emphasised the need for education saying it was the right response to the problem of child labour. Rehabilitation of the rescued children was of crucial importance, he said, and recalled the plight of such children in government run children’s homes.