On International Child Labor Day, June 12, DW spoke to Shanta Sinha, President of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights in India about the ongoing problems.
Expensive cars running on swanky roads, big shopping malls and a maddening rush to buy all things materialistic - this is how India's middle class, gripped with consumerism, can be defined. But amid this glorified picture there is a part of India that is left crying in the dark alleys of poverty and negligence.
This part is the miserable conditions of poor children. According to government statistics, 12.6 million children in India are working as laborers. On International Child Labor Day, DW spoke to Shanta Sinha, President of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). She has received, among other awards, the Raman Magsaysay award in 2003 for her remarkable contributions in social work.
DW: Even after 65 years of independence, India has not been able to stop child labor, why?
Shanta Sinha: There are many reasons for it. Primarily because of a lack of awareness in society, we treat child labor as a normal incident and at times even support it. When we go to a hotel or a road side restaurant we see young children working. But even after seeing it our heart and mind just ignore it.
Secondly, we don't have a stringent law to deal with this. Our law does not prohibit child labor completely. Only in factories is it prohibited to use child labor, whereas children working in agricultural fields and households are categorized differently. The definition of child labor is not as well defined as it should be. It is a problem of both society and the law.
Why does the government not take, or is not able to take, action against those who employ child labor? Recently, many incidents in the Indian capital, New Delhi, have come to light where the educated, upper class was found guilty of employing child labor ….
Shanta Sinha: There are a lot of incidents like this, but at the same time with the help of the government many such children have been rescued; even those who are employed by the affluent. In a month, only 400-500 children are rescued. At times. the count is only one or two, but the actual figures are in the hundreds of thousands. A mission is required to work on such a large scale. It is importantl to put pressure on the government.
You are working with a government run organization NCPCR. Has this organization rescued children working as laborers?
Shanta Sinha: We work as a monitoring agency. Our work is not to impose the law. We raise concerns about the gaps, which are there in the policies and laws of government. We do documentation and advise the government about things happening outside the limits of child labor laws. We have also filed a petition in Delhi High Court asking to include children deprived of education in the restrictions on child labor. All children should be sent to school. Our work is to reduce the pressure, but we can't ask the government to impose the laws. This needs to be done by the Ministry of Labor.
What suggestions have you given to government to eradicate child labor?
Shanta Sinha: The Delhi High Court has approved a significant proposal given to them by us. An order has been passed by the High Court to the Delhi State government that all the children deprived of education should come under the limits of child labor law. In the last three years the actions, steps and measures taken by Delhi government to deal with the issue of child labor have been according to the action plan of the High Court. NCPCR set the action plan to rescue children and work for their rehabilitation, which has been approved by the High Court.
A lot of NGOs are working on this issue. How you distinguish their role?
Shanta Sinha: There are a few NGOs that are working sincerely for the cause. They highlight the sector where government action is needed and provide statistics to the government. This is a commendable task. At times, even if children working as child laborers are identified, it takes time to prepare exact data about them. We, as NCPCR, support and try to motivate the NGOs.
After the liberalization that took place in 90s it was seen that the rich became richer and poor became poorer. What impact has this had on the children?
Shanta Sinha: I think it has affected the children a lot. It is not just the globalization that took place, but also the generalization of work that happened. When a lot of jobs are categorized under domestic or household, it promotes the use of child labor. First these jobs were done by older women because they, too, were considered cheap labor. But now, children are viewed as even cheaper than them. Globalization has forced children to suffer.
Interview: Shanta Sinha/ Vishwa Deepak / tss
Editor: Gregg Benzow