Ramya Kannan

Some issues are left unaddressed in implementation of Central notification

CHENNAI: As the rule that bans employing children in the domestic labour and hotel industry comes into effect on Tuesday, the question is whether Tamil Nadu is geared up to meet the challenges that are innate in its implementation.

The run-up to the implementation of this rule, key in the elimination of child labour, has been rather devoid of action, especially in terms of preparing the people. Barring advertisement campaigns carried out by some non-governmental organisations including the Indian Council for Child Welfare, awareness workshops conducted, again by voluntary organisations including Campaign Against Child Labour and Arunodhya in the city, there has not been the kind of activity that is required to set in motion a law with vast ramifications.

The Government's `Plan of Action' contains components to spread awareness of the social menace, identify children, rescue and rehabilitate them within the alternative mechanism already existing in the form of special schools run by the National Child Labour Elimination Projects/INDUS Projects, and residential camps run by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. It calls on Collectors and other authorities to draw up their own action plans and also "appeals" to members of the public not to engage children below 14 years in labour.

While the Government has patted itself on the back for "respond(ing) immediately" to the Centre's notification, some of the foremost issues in the implementation of this order remain unaddressed.

For instance, though unstated, the only broad mechanism for the public to report complaints and ensure rescue of a child continues to be 1098, an emergency phone outreach programme for children in distress. It is a fairly convenient tool for public response to a social issue, except that the service is also over-burdened with calls for/from children in distress and is still staffed by fewer people than is required for it to run efficiently.

Again, activists point out that rescue would also depend on verifying and establishing the age of the child. While the ultimate aim is to ban employment of all children up to 18 years of age, currently limitation of age will put a spoke in the wheel. Those, who have been active in attending to cases of emergency, of child domestic workers being tortured, which have come in from 1098, say that employers will deny that the child is under 14 years and the child will also be tutored to say likewise. Clear-cut guidelines for rescue teams will have to be outlined and publicised, activists add, for the effort to be a success.