Child protection

Child Protection

 

World Day against Child Labour

© Omesh Matta/ UNICEF/ 2008
Ms. Renuka Chowdhury, Union Minister for Women and Child Development delivering the keynote address at the seminar organized on World Day against child labour.

Delhi: To meet the challenge of child labour this year World Day against child labour was globally celebrated with a special focus on education. The ILO estimates that globally there are over 165 million child labourers who work in the age group of 5 to 14. Of that, recent data reveals, over 70 million do not attend primary school.

 To mark the day, a seminar was organized by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) supported by the ILO and UNICEF.  Participants included representatives from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Human Resource Development, NCPCR, ILO and UNICEF. Most importantly, also present were some children who, defying unimaginable odds, succeeded in taking a leap from a life of toil to one that promised education and learning.

In their own way, young Swarupa and Minarul Haque told inspiring tales of how their eagerness to study, the availability of local bridge schools and the support of their unlettered parents made it possible for them to be the first persons in their families to be educated.  From working in an exhausting 12 hour shift on a hybrid cottonseed farm for Rs 15, Swarupa from the Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh now works in a cellular phone company. Dressed in a cheery red salwar kameez, her voice ringing with confidence, addressing ministers and the media, Swarupa said:  “I am now doing BA in economics and working at the same time, so it is possible to do both things.”

On the other side of the country, Minarul Haque Mondal from India’s north-eastern state of Assam, started working at age four in a brick factory.  Moving around with his parents who worked as migratory labour, education completely bypassed Mondal till Shishu Adhikar Surakhsa Samiti, an NGO working for children inducted him into a BCC. Today, the 12 year-old, is a topper in his class of 150 students. “It was because of my teacher’s encouragement and support that I am standing before you today. I, too, am determined to become a teacher myself,” he says realising the powerful impact has had on him.

Ann Hasselbalch, deputy director, UNICEF, pointed out that though statistically enrollment in schools had increased in India, it was imperative to retain children in school through strategies like incentive programmes and interactive education. This emphasis dovetailed with the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals that targets 2015 as the year when all children should have access to primary education in a safe and quality learning environment.

Unanimously, all the participants agreed that education was the right response to the problem of child labour. The urgency of ensuring education for all children, at least till the minimum age of employment, was stressed. The participants concluded that education was critical in promoting national awareness on the need to tackle child labour. In fact, Dr Shanta Sinha, chairperson, NCPCR, strongly pleaded that a violation of a child’s right to education should be recognised as a violation of human rights.

In her keynote address, Renuka Chowdhury, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, affirmed children like Swarupa and Minarul unlike Bollywood’s stars were the true heroes and heroines of India as they were able to step out and deal with the real world with courage and conviction.

Ms Chowdhury also said in her opinion child labour was an oxymoron, children, by right, needed to have a childhood. Later she outlined a slew of measures to contain the spread of child labour which, she said, could take many forms including children participating in TV shows. She said she was also initiating a proposal with the Planning Commission to allocate new funds to a state only after it had disbursed adequate funds for the upliftment of women and child.

Leyla Tegmo-Reddy, director, ILO emphasized that child labour was associated with poverty.  Parents were unable to send their children to school because of lack of money. Given that dimension, it was important to stress education for children that included acquiring skills and training necessary to succeed in the labour market. But in the end, the day belonged to children like Sawrupa and Minarul Haque who have become inspiring role models for millions of India’s child labourers.

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