Legislate on child labour, but in tandem with rights to education and employment

 

Child labour has to be seen through a holistic prism. This is not to detract in the slightest from the assertion that the children so affected are indeed caught in a vicious circle: economic deprivation drives parents to send off their children as bonded labour or sell off their children to slave in households. The educational deprivation of these children in turn dispossesses them of the opportunities to move from the margins to the mainstream. But a society’s responsibility does not end with legislating against child labour. It is important to look far into the child’s future and ask what happens to a child that is rescued: Will the child be able to perform adequately in an institutionalised academic environment that lays so much stress on scholastic aptitude and so little on learning skills of multiple kinds? Even if the child is able to ford this bridge, will the years of struggle through a forbidding school system ensure employability and employment? Even if some employment is found, will it provide for wages commensurate with the effort that has gone into getting there, and result in a fair measure of progress from the margins to the mainstream?

 

While amending the law/ s related to child labour, therefore, it is important to factor in these concerns by linking the new legislation to right to education and right to employment, especially for the neo-literate sections of the society. Further, RTE itself needs to be broadbased to extend education to mean much more than institutionalised education. And, if right to life includes right to education, so does it include right to employment. Every person must, therefore, be assured of opportunities for employment – whether as a salaried employee or as a self-starting entrepreneur. And for this purpose, workplace, banking, and other legislations too need to be dovetailed into the systemic framework dealing with child labour. Only this will cause a sustainable change in the mindset of those who feel compelled to choose between the devil and the deep sea as they trade their children’s future for a seemingly secure present for their wards.

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