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Child labour: grand plans, little action

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Bageshree S.

There is a clear lack of political will in the State to eliminate this evil practice

Bangalore: The State Government's grand plans for eradication of child labour have remained just that.

The State initiated the Action Plan to Eliminate Child Labour in 2001 with the ambitious vision of eradicating child labour by 2007.

The 2003 Karnataka State Plan of Action for Children also had a child labour component. And while the Central legislation on classifying employment of children in domestic and hospitality sectors as "hazardous" came into effect on Monday, the State is, officially, already addressing child labour under existing legal provisions.

Yet, the goals of these laudable initiatives remain elusive, and there is a clear lack of political will on the issue. Child labour is, in fact, rampant even in sectors such as construction or mining that were declared hazardous decades ago.

With only months left for the 2007 deadline, the Action Plan on child labour is nowhere near its target.

The official reason is lack of funding, but there is no clarity on how the State plans to implement the notification that came into effect on Monday. To begin with, the Government has no idea about how many children are employed in domestic and hospitality sectors and how they would tackle the question of rehabilitation.

Labour Minister Iqbal Ansari says district administrations have already been briefed on the issue and they would "simultaneously" take up awareness camps and raids on erring households/establishments. "We do not know the magnitude of the problem yet, we will come to know as the raids go on," he says. On rehabilitation, there are still only "proposals." "We will have the action plan ready in three or four weeks, as an adjunct to the existing Action Plan," promises Mr. Ansari.

NGOs and trade union leaders say that the growth in the number of child workers is driven by the new economy. Children, they point out, are most vulnerable to new forms of contract labour without any social security

"Not a single meeting of the high powered committee headed by the Chief Minister constituted in 2001 to eradicate child labour has been convened," says Niranjan Aradhya, professor at the National Law School of India University and an expert on the issue. Rather than periodically coming up with legislation on child labour, the Government would do well to simply implement the Constitutional guarantee on the Right to Education, says Prof. Aradhya.

The classification into hazardous and non-hazardous is itself meaningless in the light of this Constitutional guarantee.

Until the Constitutional guarantee on the right to education is enforced, Kabir and Vijay, Hema and Mustafa, and the other children profiled in this series on child labour, plus thousands of other working children, must forego their childhood and the right to be literate citizens.

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