Meera Srinivasan

Labour Department to launch awareness campaign later this month

CHENNAI: Soon, residents' welfare associations in the city will have an opportunity to play a proactive role in curbing the practice of engaging child labour in homes.

The Labour Department will initiate an awareness campaign in the last week of March with the support of the associations.

Speaking to The Hindu on Thursday, Labour Minister T.M. Anbarasan said the department was in the process of identifying residents' welfare associations in the city with whom they could work with on the issue.

Spreading the message

“We think reaching residential welfare associations and spreading the message is the best way to curb the practice. Though we have not received complaints of children being engaged in domestic labour, we do not want to take a chance. We want to ensure even stray cases are eliminated,” he said.

“Good idea”

Deeming the move a welcome initiative, Andal Damodaran, vice-president, Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW) — Tamil Nadu, said that often instances of children engaged in domestic labour went unnoticed and that it was a good idea to involve residents' welfare associations.

“We had taken up a campaign in 2007, but we certainly need more awareness. Since this kind of labour is behind closed doors, we never get to know. We rescued some children after neighbours reported instances of abuse of children employed in homes in their locality,” Ms. Damodaran said.

She also pointed to the trend of families employing children from other States. In the last few years, the ICCW rescued children from Sikkim, Bihar and Assam working in the State.

“They have a very difficult time without knowledge of the place and language here. We rescued one child whom the employer tortured using an iron box.” Ms. Damodaran also recalled another instance of a family that found a seven-year-old on the streets and took her home and made her take care of an adult with mental illness. “The girl is now 18 and herself quite ill mentally.”

Activists noted that domestic labour could range from cleaning, cooking and washing to baby-sitting, all of which could drain the child physically, mentally and emotionally. Often, educated couples and well-off families were found employing children, they observed.

Age under Act

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 and many employers would argue that the children they employ are over 14.

“Parents of child labourers may also support this claim, as they need the money,” Ms. Damodaran said.

P. Krishnamoorthy, deputy general manager, Child Rights and You, Tamil Nadu, said it was not uncommon to find children, particularly girls, of urban slums engaged in domestic labour.

“While legal enforcement is important, it is not the only aspect one has to look into. A whole range of social and cultural factors have to be examined critically.” Moreover, he added, “Child labour comes cheap, as they cannot bargain.”

Associations' role

Emphasising the role that residents' welfare associations can play, Ms. Damodaran said: “Neighbours must bring to light any such case by reporting it. They could call 1098. Buildings can put up boards saying their apartment complex or homes in the colony are child labour-free.”