… to enact a single law. What would it be?
Last month I read Rachna’s post (Seema’s agony). Through her story she has managed well to portray an almost every day experience in the life of many of the domestic helps across India. She writes about how domestic helps are being subjected to atrocities that affect them mentally as well physically. It is a common sight these days at restaurants and food joints that as the family enjoys a lavish meal, the help is made to wait outside with may be an infant or a toddler or many a times all alone by herself/himself. Isn’t this act delivering wrong signals to the future generations of the family? Would it not be better to leave that poor soul back home to feed herself/himself on whatever little he/she can at home rather than bringing them and insulting them like this? Honestly to me it is not an insult to them. It is an insult to the family that engages in this cheap act.
I particularly was concerned more about the minor children being employed as domestic helps; Child Abuse and Child Labour being the worst social crimes in my opinion.
Here are some of the stories I have heard myself from the girls that I have employed. And when they spoke about it I could feel the pain in their voice. Something that had happened to them when they were young children, but something that hurts them even now. Hearing these stories made me cry and feel angry at my helplessness to help them.
“Didi, hum 11 saal ke the jab humko ek aurat bachhon waale school mein kaam ke liye le gayi. Hum khaana banate the 45 bachhe, 4 teacher log aur 3 aaya ke liye. Ek din do janon ke liye chaawal kam pad gaya and woh aurat humko loha ke sariye se maar maar ke hamara haath tod diya aur phir chulhe par haath jala diya.”
“I was employed by a lady who ran a play school when I was just 11 years old. She used to make me cook for the 45 children, 4 teachers and 3 aayas. One day rice was short for two people and she hit me with a huge iron rod fracturing my hand and then burnt my hand over the gas stove.”
She had an iron rod in her left hand with burn marks still clearly visible.
Another girl who was employed for a short while when Meenakshi went on leave told me this story which ran a chill down my spine.
“Humko servant quarters mein rakha tha. Pehle hi din humko memsaab boli ki jaakar haath mooh dhokar aao. Hum quarter ke bathroom mein jaakar haath mooh dhokar kaam shuru kar diya. Agle din subah jab memsaab kaam par chali gayi thi tab hum dekhe saab TV par hamara bathroom ka video dekh raha tha. Hum ussi waqt wahaan se baagh nikle. Maa ko bole ki phir kabhi kaam par nahi jaenge, par maa boli kaam nahi karogi to roti kaise khaogi. ”
“They kept me in servant quarters. First day the lady asked me to freshen up and come. I went to the bathroom and came back after freshening up and then started working. Next day when the lady went for her work I saw her husband watching my bathroom video. I ran away from there that time itself and told mother that I’ll not go to work. But mother said that if I don’t work how’ll I get my bread.”
She was about 13 then.
Then one of the recent ladies that I employed was speaking to the agent on the phone and I overheard this:
“Yahaan sab kuch achha hai. Khaane ki koi kami nahi hai. Didi kuch bhi lock karke nahi rakhti aur mujhe bola hai ki jo chahiye jitna chahiye khaa lena. Poochne ki bhi zaroorat nahi hai.”
“Everything’s good here. No restriction on food. Didi doesn’t lock up anything and has told me to eat anything and as much as I want. No need to ask too.”
She had a very bad experience with her previous employer who wouldn’t give her three proper meals.
We have had full-time domestic helps since September 2009 and our first question to the agency/agent is whether they engage in child labour or not. Honestly many of them lie to you but do engage in child labour. The reasons are:
- Poverty – These young children come from really poor backgrounds and are not aware of what child labour is or what their basic fundamental rights are. In short, they come for negligible wages.
- Lack of Education – Their parents are uneducated and do not know what their child’s labour is worth. They are not even aware that engaging their children in economic activity is a punishable crime.
- Unemployment – According to this TOI report, as per International Labour Organisation(ILO)’s latest estimate, the rate of unemployment in our country could be 3.8% this year. And trust me when I say that this estimate is based on the employment generation which is educated. It does not include the people from families below poverty line. Though I doubt whether that line is where it is supposed to be or is it consciously made to look better.
- Ease of Procurement – Yes. I used ‘procurement’ as if these children are commodities. They are. Or rather they are considered as commodities only. You’ll realize that when you go to the ‘hostels’ provided to them till they fetch a ‘job opportunity’ in some bungalow in posh localities in the Metros. These hostel rooms are stingy, unhygienic and accommodate about 20-25 children per room, without proper sanitation or basic facilities and food. They don’t complain for they know they cannot go back to their houses without having earned something. This makes them more suitable for the agents.
- Low resistance – Though with time, the domestic help market has boomed and many of the agencies are actually helping their candidates get better wages, there are many others which exploit them. The ‘customers’ too engage with the agents believing that the agent is trying to save their money by talking to them in private about the wages. I have personally witnessed this. On papers the salary of the maid was INR 5000 per month and the agent asks you to submit the money to him and not directly to the candidate else he/she will run away with the money. And the same agent then hands over just about 50%-60% of the amount to the candidate. He keeps the balance for himself even after taking a hefty one-time commission from you. Since these kids have no voice and resist less, they are easy prey for such predators.
I blame us for this. Child labour will not exist if you and I refuse to employ them or a product from a company that engages in child labour. What people don’t realize is the fact that just for saving money we will end up in a heinous crime which can result in many more violent crimes. Many of these children are also subjected to child abuse and mental harassment.
I have seen people subject children under the age of ten employed with them to severe punishment. I have wondered whether they would be alright if their children are subjected to similar or may be lesser punishment by their teachers or others.
India as a country needs a stricter law and severe punishment for people engaged in child labour or domestic help abuse.
“Article 24 of India’s constitution prohibits child labour. Additionally, various laws and the Indian Penal Code, such as the Juvenile Justice (care and protection) of Children Act-2000, and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Abolition) Act-1986 provide a basis in law to identify, prosecute and stop child labour in India.
After its independence from colonial rule, India has passed a number of constitutional protections and laws on child labour. The Constitution of India in the Fundamental Rights and the Directive of State Policy prohibits child labour below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine or castle or engaged in any other hazardous employment (Article 24). The constitution also envisioned that India shall, by 1960, provide infrastructure and resources for free and compulsory education to all children of the age six to 14 years. (Article 21-A and Article 45).
India has a federal form of government, and child labour is a matter on which both the central government and country governments can legislate, and have. The major national legislative developments include the following:
The Factories Act of 1948: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory. The law also placed rules on who, when and how long can pre-adults aged 15–18 years be employed in any factory.
The Mines Act of 1952: The Act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine.
The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous occupations identified in a list by the law. The list was expanded in 2006, and again in 2008.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000: This law made it a crime, punishable with a prison term, for anyone to procure or employ a child in any hazardous employment or in bondage.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009: The law mandates free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14 years. This legislation also mandated that 25 percent of seats in every private school must be allocated for children from disadvantaged groups and physically challenged children.
India formulated a National Policy on Child Labour in 1987. This Policy seeks to adopt a gradual & sequential approach with a focus on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations. It envisioned strict enforcement of Indian laws on child labour combined with development programs to address the root causes of child labour such as poverty. In 1988, this led to the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) initiative. This legal and development initiative continues, with a current central government funding of ₹ 6 billion, targeted solely to eliminate child labour in India. Despite these efforts, child labour remains a major challenge for India.”
Information source: Wikipedia
More information on the laws and the punishments involved are available here.
The below link has the downloadable PDF documents of the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986, the Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933. Those of you interested can download and read for your reference.
This is one law I would like to enact and strengthen given a chance. The punishment must be so severe that no one dares to send their children for labour and no one dares to employ them. The government has been doing some good job in villages by providing free education, uniforms, books, food and bicycles to the children to make them attend school. I have personally witnessed it on a recent trip and blogged about it in my post: She’s a Small Town Girl. If only they are able to create more employment opportunities in villages and employ their parents, these tiny hands won’t have to struggle so hard and carry injury marks (both physical and mental) awarded ruthlessly to them by their employees.
I wonder what finally happened to the BSP MP Dhananjay Singh and his wife Jagriti Singh involved in the murder of their domestic help. Like most of the other high profile cases this too seems shut and closed by the media and the law and order officials.
After all, what difference will it make to India’s population of 1.237 billion if a small percentage of people who work as domestic helps die and vanish into thin air?
This post is part of the WordPress Daily Prompts : 365 Writing Prompts program where the aim is to post at least once a day based on the prompts that they have provided. Today’s prompt is, “You’ve got the power: You have the power to enact a single law. What would it be?“