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CHILD LABOUR
HUMAN RIGHTS OF CHILDREN
WHAT IS CHILD LABOUR? WHO IS A CHILD? WHAT IS LABOUR?
By Dr. Mohan Shenoy
        The word child produces a picture of an infant, a toddler, or a little kid, or even a 10 year old playing around. This is the meaning of the word child that has pre-occupied in the back of our mind, and we associate this meaning when we say anything about a child, anything we describe for a child, and anything we create for a child.

        There are other definitions of the word child which seem inappropriate to us given the background meaning just described. A 14 year old boy is anything but a child really, but in the pediatrics medicine all 14 year-olds and those that are younger are children.

        In legal terms a child is the one who has not completed fourteenth year of life. Is an adolescent a child? No, an adolescent is not a child. An adolescent is the one who has completed fourteenth year but not yet completed the eighteenth year of life. Any one who has completed eighteenth year is an adult.

        Labour means work. A labourer is a worker. Both labourers and workers are money earners. Suppose an adolescent is carrying a bag of rice on his back he may or may not be a worker or labourer. The adolescent is a worker in this case if he is carrying the bag of rice for a shop and he is getting paid for it.

        Suppose a thirteen year old girl is washing clothes she may be a labourer, provided she is working in a house as a domestic servant and is getting paid for it. In other words any thirteen year old person doing any work is not coming under the definition of child labour if the work he or she is doing is not under an employment, or a contract.

        The difference between an employment and a contract for employment is simple. A contract labourer is working for the contractor who in turn gets paid in lump-sum by the contractee. The contractee is a person who makes an agreement with a contractor to get his work done. The contractee is not bothered about payment to workers who work for the contractor. The contractor appoints the workers either temporarily or permanently and pays them their wages. In effect the worker is working in order to execute the work entrusted to the contractor by the contractee.

        If the mother of a twelve year old boy asks him to wash dishes at home will it be construed as child labour?It is one thing to prohibit child labour, but the matter of what they should do when they are not engaged in child labour is another matter altogether. If a child labourer is detected and he is asked to stop being a child labourer, it is within the purview of the Law. But the same child can not be forced in to something else such as going to school.

        Suppose a child does not want to go to school for any reason, can the Law force him to go to school? If the parent does not want the child to go to the school located nearby for reasons best known to him, can the government force either the parent or the child to get enrolled in the school?Who is assuming the role of a dictator here? Who is assuming the role of moral guide here? Who created public opinion against the idea of doing something other than going to school?

      How can going to school is the only thing made mandatory for a fourteen year old adolescent? The public opinion is created, established and transformed into a virtual law (there is no such Act) that rather than do some work a fourteen year old should go to school. No one need succumb to this mad black-mail.

    The Baar Mitzvah ceremony among the Jews, commemorates a 13 year old boy to take on the responsibilities of an adult under the Jewish Law. By refusing to allow a 14 year old to begin his life by involving in productive work, India is denying itself a large human force from contributing to its Gross National Product.

        The word school is something that is considered an all-in-one solution for all ills that pervade the child labourer. It is assumed that the school located in the village is a good school where morals are taught in addition to languages, arithmetic and civics. It is certainly not a place where the adolescent will learn the trade in which his parents are engaged.

        The school does not teach the adolescent the intricacies of raising a crop of wheat for example. It does not teach how to irrigate the fields, plough the fields, sow the seeds, water the plants, harvest the wheat or paddy etc. It teaches him or her how to write sentences, how to do calculations, and about health, civic duties, history and geography, and do the same thing once again this year and again next year and completely keep away from work in his parents' fields. He is cut off from the entire process of earning the livelihood in the family just because he is forced by public opinion to go to school. His love for labour or for the occupation of his parents gets no support, no encouragement.

        Agriculture is only a very common occupation that is lost to the gen-next. Actually the gen-next is losing out on a large number of fine crafts and arts that their parents could have taught them and kept the arts and craft alive as a cultural heritage. It is not easy for a parent to revert his graduate son into the family business which requires on a elementary education.

        How frustrated are the parents to be unable to induct their own children into the career that they themselves took up when they turned fourteen!   A weaver, a carpenter, a launderer, a cook, a priest, a dancer, a singer, a drama actor, a cinema actor and so many others would love to have their children work alongside them in their work-shops and learn the trade of their family. But instead public opinion is for sending them to ill-defined, badly managed, forlorn schools.

        In the schools the adolescents rot for years together gathering moss all around them, rather than remain tip-top in their aim for life's achievements of happiness and prosperity. It is a public opinion of shameless proportions that assumes every village child drawn away from their parents' trade could become a management guru, or a CEO of a MNC, if he or she goes to school.For a parent who is an employee and not a self-employed person, such as an agriculturist, a shop-keeper, a craftsman, a professional, the only choice given is to send their child to school rather than send him for work, even a kind of work where he learns the trade of preference.

        If an adolescent is allowed to work for a salary or other remuneration, in a position where he gains experience and expertise to get engaged in that trade himself in due course, then he would be better able to manage his family and his life, than by wasting his precious adolescent years in the school where he gets bored of the subjects taught, and examinations crossed over.

        The view which is expressed here is quite reasonable, yet neither lawmaker, nor an NGO engaged in eradicating child labour from the face of earth, nor would the big black vested interest, viz., the massive build-up called the schools system, hear the arguments given here. They have turned deaf with regards to this.

        The newspapers tow the line of these parties, supporting the stand of prohibition against adolescent work.



Concluded.
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