The Upper House of the India Parliament passed a Bill to Amend the Child Labour Act 1986. The amendment prohibits the engagement of children below the age of 14 in all occupations and processes so that they are able to enjoy their fundamental right to education. It should be a cause of celebration for the likes of us at Project Why. Child labour in any form is abhorrent and reprehensible.
The celebration is short lived when one sees the caveat that defeats the intent. Although it abolishes child labour in any form it introduces a proviso that allows children under 14 to work in family enterprises. Nothing alarming you would say keeping thinking of your own child and your family enterprise but this means that children can help families after and before school, our kids do help with home chores don’t they?
But what if your family business is rolling beedis or agarbattis, making bangles, packing and sticking labels or any of the umpteen of labour sub-contracted to families on a per piece basis. So the more you make the more you earn and hence the tiniest hands are usefully productive. Many parents of Project Why children engage in such work, the easiest to access.
Often children who ‘help’ in such work spend hours before or after school helping the families. In the early days of the Project Why’s Yamuna centre parents would happily come to class and ask for their child as (s)he was ‘needed’ to help pick vegetables. It took us some time to convince them to stop. Mercifully they have.
At that time we thought law was on our side but today it is not. True there is the before or after school but is making a child work acceptable, that is the question we must ask.
Attending school in itself is sufficient ‘work’ for any child. A child who has spent some hours rolling beedis or making bangles is already tired and will not be able to concentrate in school and hence will perform poorly. The time when (s)he drops out will not be far as the choice between work and school is a foregone decision.
This approach seems to imply that the best for a child is to carry on its family’s profession and maintain status quo.
But every child has a right to dream and dream BIG. That is what we believe at Project Why and strive to achieve.
The best example is our very own Sanjay who was born on the street to a family of gypsy ironmongers, who was a Project Why student, then teacher and then doors opened and he is now an International Ramp Model. That is because his family allowed him to get an education and work in another profession. Once the gates open, the sky is the limit so why shut the door on India’s children dreams.