Two years after ban, tender hands still scrub pots

October 10th, 2008 - 5:56 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 10 (IANS) Like all other days, eight-year-old Raghu’s day began much the same way Friday. Bending over dirty pots and pans and scrubbing them clean at the dhaba where he works, Raghu had no clue that two years back the government had banned the employment of children like him in restaurants and as domestic helps.“I have been working here for a year now. I stay in the dhaba (streetside eatery) itself,” Raghu said, hesitating a little for fear that his employer would scream at him for wasting his time talking to strangers and not doing his duty.

Raghu does not hail from Delhi. A year back, he was brought here from his hometown in Bihar by an “uncle” who promised his parents a better life for him and his family.

“I don’t like what I am doing. I wish I could stay with my parents and go to school like the other boys do in the school nearby,” he said.

Despite a ban on children under 14 being employed as domestic helps and in dhabas and bigger restaurants - it came into effect exactly on this day two years ago - hundreds of children like Raghu can be seen working in streetside eateries daily.

According to documents provided by the labour ministry, in two years only 8,105 violations were detected across the country.

To queries filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), an NGO working on child rights, the labour ministry said the detections were made from October 2006, when the ban came into effect, to April 2008.

“Despite so many children working in dhabas and homes every day, if these figures are what officials say is the real number of child workers, then it reflects the mindset of the officials who refuse to take it as a serious crime,” Bhuwan Ribhu, lawyer and national secretary of the BBA, told IANS.

“At this rate, child labour will never be eliminated from our society,” he added.

This is not all.

According to the labour ministry, prosecutions have been filed in only 20 percent of the cases detected. And rehabilitation of most of the rescued children is a mystery.

The ministry also said of the 8,105 detections of child labour, prosecutions have been filed in only 1,680 cases.

Thomas Chandy, CEO of Save the Children, Bal Raksha Bharat, said with nearly one million child labourers in Delhi alone, it’s high time the authorities pulled up their socks and did more than what is being done at present to uproot the problem.

“With the amendment on banning the employment of children under 14 as child domestic workers, we have seen inspections and rescues increase marginally. With nearly one million children working in Delhi alone as child domestic workers, clearly much more needs to be done to ensure that the law is implemented and acts as a deterrent to employers,” Chandy said.

Ribhu agreed: “Forget about other states. If you look at Delhi alone, the number of cases detected is just 26 in 19 months. And the cases filed are 12. When the Delhi government admits that the city has over 60,000 child labourers, isn’t this disparity too big?”

“Even more shocking is the fact that in most states like Delhi, there is no record of the number of rescued children in shelter homes or those sent to their parents or enrolled in schools or rehabilitated. Where have the rescued children disappeared?” he asked.

Raghu, and hundreds of others like him, should know the answer better.

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