Save Their Childhood

Anukriti Sharma
Sunday, 11 June 2017

A rather shy girl told us that her only goal is to make her mother proud. “My mother once said that she wants me to be a navy officer and I want to make her dream come true,” she said, adding, “I think that education is more important for girls because society still thinks that we are only good for housework. It is up to us to change this mentality and make people treat boys and girls equally.” Her friend told us that she wants to become a doctor to help people who are genuinely in need.

Today, 11th June, on World Day Against Child Labour, NGO and lawyers talk about the necessary steps that are required to eradicate the problem

Walk into a class at Hope for the children Foundation (HFCF) and you will find a group of kids deeply engrossed in conversation with their mentor about which career path to choose and how can they work towards it. The teacher explains what hardships certain jobs would entail and that due to the society we live in, gender also plays an important role while picking a career. Their faces beam with excitement and enthusiasm about working hard and getting somewhere in life. They are children of daily labourers or domestic help, who could have ended up as child labourers, had the NGO not offered them education.

Let's pause for a moment and think of the chotu we've seen at a chai tapri, restaurant or a shop. Think about how their childhood is supposed to be filled with memories of playing and learning, but instead, they are stripped of their innocence and made to work to earn a few extra bucks to support their families. Quite shameful for a society to allow this, isn't it?

On the World Day Against Child Labour today, we speak to a few kids, an NGO working for them and a lawyer, to know about the existing laws to safeguard their interests, and what we, as citizens, can do, to provide them a better life.

Education is important
Caroline Audoir de Valter, Founder and CEO, Hope For the Children Foundation (HFCF) shares, “It needs to be a collective effort if we actually want to bring about a change in our society. It is really important to make the parents realise that education plays a vital role in building a bright future for their kids.”

The NGO also works with single moms, some of whom were married at the age of 9 and widowed by the age of 14, and some who have been abandoned by their husbands. They make their child work to earn enough money for the both of them to survive. But Valter feels that the mother should take up two jobs instead of sending her child to work.
“We had a case where a mother was taking her 7-year-old daughter back to their village in Karnataka to get her married. The girl was suffering from tuberclosis at that time, and she used to regularly call us and say that she didin't want to get married, but wanted to come back to Pune and complete her studies. Like everyone else, these kids too have great ambitions in life but they just don't have the platform. When they come here, we teach them how to pursue their passion,” said Valter.

The problem is so deep-rooted that if only one or two people do something about it, we won't be able to do much. All of us need to come together eventually to work towards it. “These kids don't know much about their right to education (RTE) but we obviously are aware, so providing them that information is necessary. I understand that it is not easy, but we have to start somewhere. Right now, 80 per cent of girls that we have are studying in various schools and are the toppers of their classes. We are also ensuring that these girls don't drop out. But at the end of the day, society needs to come forward and address the issue,” said Valter.

A chance for all
What needs to be realised is that each one of us deserves to live a good and happy life. But this philosophy takes a backseat when we see a child worker washing the dishes at a small eatery, or working as a domestic help in the house of someone we know. Who wants to get involved and call the police?

Talking about how it is necessary to stop employing children as domestic help, Valter said, “Even though the rate of child labour is slowly going down, educated people are still employing children because they come as cheap labour. But we should be working towards guiding and helping these children achieve their goals instead of crushing them.”
She added, “We must stop giving money to the child beggars, and instead try to help them in a different way. We need to protect them and not promote them to choose labour or begging as a career path. Every time we counsel the mothers of these kids, we ask them, 'Do you want your child to have the same life as you had, do you want to see them struggle just as much?'”

What the law says
Breaking down the child labour laws, city-based advocate, Supriya Kothari explained that it is in common knowledge that any child below the age of 15 cannot work anywhere. Although, they can work in the entertainment industry but only after their school hours or during summer breaks. She said, “In 2016, there was an amendment made to the law in which children between the age of 15-18 cannot work in 85 hazardous industries which include fertilisers, cement, coal, power generating, mining and more. We must take the initiative to inform the police the moment we see a child labourer anywhere, be it a domestic help or a worker in a drug store. The kids are not aware that they are being abused, but we know better. The reason why they get involved in this profession is because their parents are not able to afford education but they should be told that they have the right to avail free education.”

When I grow up
When we met the kids, all around the age of 10, at HFCF on Saturday, they told us about their ambitions. Looking at their eyes twinkling with joy when they talk about what they want to be when they grow up, will show you how much courage is packed into these little beings.

A rather shy girl told us that her only goal is to make her mother proud. “My mother once said that she wants me to be a navy officer and I want to make her dream come true,” she said, adding, “I think that education is more important for girls because society still thinks that we are only good for housework. It is up to us to change this mentality and make people treat boys and girls equally.” Her friend told us that she wants to become a doctor to help people who are genuinely in need.

Another girl aspires to be a police officer. “There are a lot of officers who harass people and take bribes. But my mother taught me never to trouble people for your own benefit, and to be loyal to your job,” she told us. Yet another said, “My mother works as a domestic help, and I don't like it. She wants me to work hard but not do the same job as her. I want to become a pilot.”

 

Follow the writer on Twitter @sh_anukriti

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