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Childline Guwahati has rescued around 148 child labourers from April to October this year
Childline Guwahati has rescued around 148 child labourers from April to October this year|Representational image
IN-DEPTH

Assam: Child labour cases on the rise in Guwahati, here’s why

Compared to 250 in last financial year (April 2018-March 2019), up to 148 child labourers rescued in just six months of this year so far, reveals Childline

Simran Bajaj

Guwahati: November is a month of celebrating children and their rights. The month boasts of two significant days, that is Children's Day on November 14 which aims to increase awareness about child rights, care and education, and Universal Children's Day on November 20, which demands action for child rights, but the ground reality seems far from it.

Reports of the rescue of children from different commercial and domestic institutions, child marriage, abuse, corporal punishment and so on are an everyday affair. On Wednesday, a local daily in Assam reported that eight minors were rescued on Tuesday from various commercial establishments in Tinsukia, upper Assam.

As a matter of fact, the instances of child rights violation and numbers of child rescue cases are on a rise.

Nirmal Deka, coordinator, Childline Guwahati centre, informed that Childline has rescued 375 children from April 1 to October 31 this year from Guwahati. He added that of these 375 cases, 185 fall under rescue/ protection from abuse (PFA), and around 80% of these are cases of child labour, which roughly come to 148 cases. The remaining 20% constitutes of cases of corporal punishment, abuse, etc.

Children are pushed as bonded labourers due to family indebtedness
Children are pushed as bonded labourers due to family indebtedness
Representation image

Childline – 1098 - is a 24*7 available toll-free helpline number for children in distress. It is a project under the Union ministry of women and child development and is nationally monitored by Childline India Foundation, an NGO.

In 2017-2018 (April to March) Childline Guwahati rescued a total of 676 children of which 394 were under ‘rescue/ PFA’ category. Up to 80% of this comes to 315 cases (approximately). And in 2018-2019 (April to March) Guwahati’s Childline centre rescued 590 children of which 313 were under ‘rescue/PFA’, 80% of which comes to 250 cases (approx).

Though there was a positive downward trend in the cases of child labour from 2017-18 to 2018-19, in 2019-20, there seems to be a spike in such cases, informed Deka. In just six months of the ongoing year, Childline Guwahati has rescued around 148 cases of child labour.

Childline’s 1098 services currently cover 542 districts in all states and union territories and 116 railway stations across India, covering 75% of the country. It handles 8-10 million calls a year across its four zones.

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016

As per the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, it is "an Act to prohibit the engagement of children in all occupations and to prohibit the engagement of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes and the matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

The new Act defined a "child" as a person who has not completed his 14th year of age or such age as may be specified in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, whichever is more; and introduced a new category called "adolescent" which means a person who has completed his fourteenth year of age but has not completed his 18th year.

The Act enhanced the punishment for employing any child in an occupation. It also includes a penalty for employing an adolescent in a hazardous occupation. The penalty for employing a child was increased to imprisonment between six months and two years (from three months to one year) or a fine of Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 (from Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000) or both. The penalty for employing an adolescent in hazardous occupation is imprisonment between 6 months and two years or a fine of Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 or both.

It also empowered the government to make periodic inspection of places at which employment of children and adolescents are prohibited.

The bill seeking to amend the older law Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, was introduced in Rajya Sabha on December 2012, then referred to a standing committee and finally passed in the Upper House of Parliament in July 2016. It cleared Lok Sabha in the same month and got the President's assent on July 29, 2016.

However, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016 was criticised, as the amendment cut out the list of hazardous occupations from 83 to include just mining, inflammable substances, explosives, and occupations mentioned in the Factory Act, 1948, giving leeway to several industries and businesses to employ adolescent children.

Also, the new Act allowed a child (under 14) to help his family or family enterprise, which is other than any hazardous occupations or processes after his school hours or during vacations; and work as an artist in an audio-visual entertainment industry, including advertisement, films, television serials or any such other entertainment or sports activities except the circus, subject to such conditions and safety measures, against the condition that no such work shall affect the school education of the child.

Again, child rights activists argued that this gives a free hand for the exploitation of a child as it burdens a child or compels them to work for family without much accountability.

Child labour

According to census 2011, in India, 10.1 million children are engaged in work, down from 12.6 million children engaged in work as per census 2001. This came as a positive new, but only for rural India where the numbers went down to 8.1 million in 2011 from 11.3 million in 2001. Urban India saw a hike of 0.7 million children, as census 2011 recorded 2 million children engaged in work against 2001 where 1.3 children were working.

In Assam, as per census 2001, 5.07% (3.51 lakh persons) of the state's 5-14 years population were child workers. And as per census 2011, 4.9% (3.47 lakh persons) of the state total 5-14 years population.

Essentially, according to the 2011 census, "5 in every 100 children between 5 and 14 years in Assam is a child worker."

Dhemaji district has the highest proportion of child labour among all districts in Assam while Dhubri district shares the highest number of child labour of the total child labour in the state according to census 2011.

Being an agrarian economy, child labourers in Assam are mostly involved in agricultural activities. After that comes manufacturing, then trade and hotel, mining and quarrying, construction and others.

Scenario in Guwahati

Deka, coordinator of Childline Guwahati centre, said, that most cases where they rescue a child is from are a hotel, Dhaba, restaurants and domestic setups. While in commercial setups like Dhaba, hotel and restaurant child labour is visible, in domestic setups one can almost never find out if a child is working as a household help until and unless it is reported or seen by someone.

A UNICEF report on child labour backs this fact. According to the report, the types of child labour have changed in recent years due to enforcement of legislation, awareness amongst buyers about child exploitation, and international pressure. "Child labour is now more invisible because the location of the work has changed from the more formal setting of factories to business owners’ homes. There has also been an increasing involvement of children in the home-based and informal sectors."

It added that "Work is often gender-specific, with girls performing more domestic and home-based work, while boys are more often employed in wage labour. In general, the workload and duration of the working hours increases as children grow older."

Nirmal Deka of childline said that in cases of domestic child labour, it is generally observed that the children are from Bihar or from tea tribes.

Also, whenever there is a case of child labour, neglect and abuse go hand in hand. Instances of employers locking up their minor domestic help, beating them and other examples of misconduct have often been reported.

Reasons for child labour

A UNICEF reports pointed out that there are several contributing factors to child labour including:

- Poverty and illiteracy of a child’s parents,

- Family’s social and economic circumstances,

- Lack of awareness on the harmful effects of child labour

- Lack of access to basic education and skills training

- High rates of adult unemployment and under-employment

- Cultural value and surrounding society

Also, many a time, children are pushed as bonded labourers due to family indebtedness. Natural calamities and urban migration are also influencing factors.

The ASCPCR official said that child labour is not just about poverty but it can be a result of lack of facilities, services and provisions.

Children are often preferred labourers over adults as the employers can pay them less, easily manipulated them and they are almost always unaware of their rights. Also, there are certain activities and types of industries such as firecrackers which use child labourers to make work easy. Even in urban settings, there are several hidden cases of domestic child labours.

“By employing children as labour, we are killing their skills,” the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights official said.

Rehabilitation of child labour

The ASCPCR official opined that a lot needs to be done on the part of the rehabilitation of rescued child labourers.

Giving an example he said that many times when they rescue a person from say Delhi, next he/she ends up in Mumbai, and so on. This is a never-ending cycle which is the result of several factors like the child’s socio-economic factors, societal or parental or peer pressure, psychosocial issues and so on. And most importantly this means that there is room for improvement in the rehabilitation provision of the rescued children.

There needs to be skill training of the children as pre his/her interest, mapping of institutes and resources required which can best help the child and develop/recognise any existing skills in the children.

He added that if a rehabilitation mechanism can kill the reason for child labour, then it works.

Awareness initiative

From November 14 to 20, Childline had a week-long celebration called ‘Childline se dosti week’ with the objective to spread awareness about child rights and protection. And, it aimed at making ‘1098’ known to people from all walks of life.

Likewise, Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR) on Children's Day launched an app called 'Sishu Suraksha App', a dedicated e-complaint box which will enable users from all over Assam to lodge complaints about instances of child rights violation. The purpose of the e-box is to empower citizens to take moral responsibility for the protection of our future generations. Also, from November 14 to 20, the entire week was celebrated as child rights week.

“Any person in Assam, whether in a very remote village or city, if he sees that child rights is being denied to somebody, or it could be child labour, child marriage or child harassment, the person can report to us through the app. The app will then notify us and we will take the necessary actions," said ASCPCR Chairperson Dr Sunita Changkakati while announcing the app.

Speaking with EastMojo, an official of ASCPCR said that they have received two complaints on the app, one of child marriage and other was of corporal punishment, both from Guwahati. And the required steps have been taken.

ASCPCR also sent pledge letter to all schools across the state for making the teachers pledge for child rights in front of all the children during a school assembly, and to send pictures or videos of the same during the child rights week. This pledge taking initiative in front of the students inculcates a sense of trust in their minds and accountability on the teachers.

Earlier this year on World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, more than 4 lakh government employees signed a pledge for not engaging in a child below 14 or those between 14-18 in hazardous work. Also, students and teachers in all government schools in Guwahati took a pledge against child labour.

Childline Guwahati coordinator said that after the pledge, it has led to an improvement in the scenario. Also, the number of reports are raising.

Though several seminars, talk sessions, walks, runs, marathons, conclave and other events are taking place to raise awareness about child rights and the ills of child labour, there is a still a long way to ahead for the millions of children working in India. Spreading the literacy of child rights remains quintessential and awareness of the availability of provisions like a 24 hours distress helpline like Childline and application like Sishu Suraksha is equally important.