From peddling wares at traffic lights to cleaning sewers to tarring roads, child labour is generating more employment than the IT industry in India. If we can't give basic necessities to the most vulnerable of our citizens, all our dreams of India shining will be tarnished.
Children's Day came and went, along with associated festivities; a day off at school, distribution of candy and endless screenings of Taarezameen par. Now it is business as usual. In our quest for turning our children into successful super humans, the realisation of our unfulfilled goals, or the extension of it, we berate them, taunt them, pressure them beyond exhaustion and deny them a carefree childhood they are entitled to.
My housemaid works for a pittance in six houses and barely makes ends meet. She scrapes by so she can send her sons to a ‘state-of-the-art English medium school.' Her sons are her gateway out of poverty. As uplifting as the story is, I shudder at thought of the humongous burden of responsibility placed on the fragile shoulders. Not to mention the identity crisis the children face daily when their world collides with their affluent classmates'.
A bleaker scenario is the maid bringing her pre-teen daughter to work, ostensibly to lend a helping hand, but in reality the child is being forced into an unjust career choice. How many of us have had that self-loathing moment when after our sumptuous meal in a restaurant, a scrawny child comes to our table with a washcloth and a tray twice his size to clear away the scraps of our food! From peddling wares at traffic lights to cleaning sewers to tarring roads, child labour is generating more employment than the IT industry in India. If we cannot provide the basic necessities and ensure a safe environment for the most vulnerable of our citizens, all our dreams of India shining will be tarnished with the blood, sweat and toil of these bonded labourers.
Of all the atrocities, the cable networks shove down our throats in the name of entertainment, the children's reality shows singe the gullet. Girls, hardly 10, gyrate to the likes of sheilas and munnis, in dance moves that would do justice to a Las Vegas strip club. The innocent child is thrust into the midst of intense drama and cut-throat competition, not to mention inappropriate song and dance sequences, in return for 15 minutes of fame-plus a few bonus points. What happens when the spotlights fade and the child has to deal with her peers and a normal school life, I wonder.
Eyebrows are raised when I tell curious well-wishers that my 14-year-old daughter has not decided on her future career yet. It is inconceivable to most people that a 9th grader hasn't already started off on the Yellow Brick Road. I will not accept her judgment, at 14, in choosing a life partner, nor do I expect her to know how she wants to spend the rest of her life. Being one myself, I can relate to the parent's point of view. In our country, where KG classrooms abound with 60+ children, you have to be the sharpest tool in the box, to be heard or picked; you have to make your choices hard and fast. With universities demanding a 100% cut-off for admissions, the cutting edge has transgressed the breaking point. This insurmountable expectation is taking a toll on the adolescents and showing up in symptoms from ulcers, migraine, and apathy to depression, drug abuse and even suicidal tendencies.
As parents, we must educate ourselves that there is no “make or break moment” in life, especially at 15. Life offers a variety of choices. If we instil in our children the motto that learning is a lifelong process and teach them to adapt and innovate to the dictates of their circumstances, they will have a better chance of a productive and contented life.
“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it,” said Einstein. It would do us parents good to heed the advice of one of the smartest persons seen by the world.
Fourteen years down the line, my parenting skills are still a work in progress. I recently updated my parental wish list….
1997: My daughter names me in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
2005: My son stays out of trouble.
2011: I hope my children survive this jungle of life.
(The writer's email ID is: firstname.lastname@example.org)