It was shocking to read the news of a 10-year-old being physically abused by her employer in a Mumbai suburb. Though this is a particularly appalling case, it is important to remember that the girl is one of hundreds of thousands of child domestic workers across India without a voice, subject to exploitation and part of a growing breed of full-time child workers in the country’s towns and cities.

Through a notification on October 10, 2006, the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act (CLPRA) specifically prohibited employing children below 14 years as domestic help. Unfortunately, in spite of the ban, child domestic work is still endemic. Children working as domestic help are forced to work long hours, without food. They are either paid minimal wages or not paid at all, and as they live with the employer, are largely invisible to the outside world. This invisibility is a key reason for the vulnerability of child domestic workers to exploitation and physical and psychological abuse, as the case in Mumbai shows.

To make things worse, there is a poor track record of enforcement of laws. Little has been done so far to rescue child domestic workers and to punish their employers. In the just concluded parliamentary session, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Harish Rawat, made a written statement that under the CLPRA, there had been seven prosecutions and four convictions in the past three years. This sums up the deplorable state of affairs. There is an urgent need to make child labour a cognisable offence and strictly enforce the law. Having said this, the law can only act as a deterrent. We, as citizens, have a responsibility not to employ children and to speak out in our own circles against those employing children as domestic help.

Shireen Miller,

Director of Advocacy, Save the Children, New Delhi

Keywords: child abuse

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