Ten-year-old Esther took up a job as a domestic help two years ago to help her ailing mother. But little did she know that she would be abused and made to work beyond the strength of her petite body.
At the national convention on child rights organised here on Wednesday, she recalled with tears the struggles she endured under her employer before she was rescued by the National Domestic Worker's Movement (NDWM).
More than 300 child domestic labourers like her who have been given a new life and education participated in the convention that began on Monday. Some shared their experiences of pain and torture at the hands of child traffickers and employers, while others tried to put their past behind and looked forward to a bright future.
The recommendations, which were drafted at the discussions over two days with the participation of the children from 11 States, were presented to Information Minister Parithi Illamvazhuthi. In the recommendations, the NDWM appealed for a ban on the employment of children below 15 years of age and special protection to those above this age by stipulating a minimum wage. It also called for enactment of stringent laws to protect and assist domestic workers. The recommendations called for compulsory implementation of the Ban on Child Labour Act, 1985. Another recommendation called upon the government to extend support to the International Labour Organisation's Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.
The issue could be addressed only by providing social security to the parents, said NDWM National Coordinator Jeanne Devos. “Pension schemes, health schemes and educational scholarships need to be made available to the family for eradication of child labour,” she said.
The recently introduced bill for protection of women against sexual harassment at workplace does not include domestic labourers, she pointed out.
The Juvenile Justice Act should be implemented with stringent measures, said K. Sanmugavelayutham, professor, Social Work department, Loyola College. “These are children in need of care and protection,” he said, adding that the Child Protection Society as envisaged under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme was yet to be implemented in the State. Virgil D' Samy, Director, Arunodaya Centre, an NGO, called for the formation of children's groups that would work together for protection of child rights and to raise their voice against injustices.