As Al Amin Ali, with puckered eyebrows, vigorous gesture of hand and a mature voice, was speaking out against society’s indifference towards child labourers and the rights mooted for them by the policymakers, he appeared much older than his 15-year-old self. Working and staying at a brick kiln for more than 10 years under adverse conditions has made the change.
On the eve of Children’s Day, a chat session here on Friday with several other teenaged child labourers like Amin, whose childhood hopes and dreams are being crushed under the burden of their family’s financial requirements as well as society’s ignorance to their cause, revealed, albeit with a touch of cynicism, that their aspirations in life are not very different from those of the more privileged.
“I too want to grow up and lead a dignified life like you. Who would like to lead a hellish life in a brick kiln forever? But does anyone really care to give us our right? What good will just celebrating a day serve unless it seriously helps us?” Amin asked.
Hope, however, is not completely lost on Amin, Pratima, Nistarini, Moumita and hundreds of others like them with several non-governmental organisations (NGO) coming forward to educate them for a better future.
“Ours is a process to mainstream the children and also make them aware of their rights. Till now, formulating child rights was the prerogative of the adults, but we believe that the children should also be heard out before laws are tabled,” said Manabendra Nath Ray, the West Bengal programme manager of Save the Children, the NGO that organised the session.
Not only the apathy of society, the children, mostly the girls, have to face discrimination at home also. Nistarini Mondal is one of them.
Forced into rag-picking at the age of seven by her parents to augment the income in a family of eight, Nistarini wonders why she should work and earn when her two brothers are allowed to go to school.
“My father is a drunkard and beats me up regularly for money. He, however, says nothing to my brothers… I too want to study and play…,” she said.
Rays of hope still glimmer at the end of the tunnel nevertheless with success stories like that of 17-year-old Parul Sahu.
Employed as a domestic help at a household at the age of eight, she took a beautician course training at the behest of the Save the Children, and earns around Rs.4,000 per month at present.
“I bear the education expenses of my siblings as I want them to study, something that I could not do. I was fortunate to have got the opportunity and want everyone else like me to see better days in life,” Parul said.