Srinagar: Each year on 12 June, governments, employers and workers organizations, civil society, as well as millions of people from around the world come together to highlight the plight of child labourers and to find ways as what can be done to help them.
This day is observed as World Child Labour Day with an aim to eradicate this menace from our societies.
The latest research has found that around 200 million people are affected by disasters every year. A third of them are children.
A significant proportion of the 168 million children engaged in child labour live in areas affected by conflicts and disasters.
Akram Koli, 10, shouting out the rates of brooms on a wooden cart for sale, his bass voice to attract costumers doesn’t match his tender age. He is a kid who works as a broom seller in a busy market in Srinagar’s Batamaloo area.
Wearing a skull cap, a blue jacket and dark blue shirt that is loosely tucked into his skin-tight pent with “half of its zip open”, Akram narrates his ordeal as a broom seller.
“I live in Malva Kulgam; we are 5 siblings, so why I am here is because of poverty,” Akram, a ten year old boy said. “We have no source of income.”
Akram wants to be a doctor in his life and is passionate to re-visit his old school that he dropped out of after 3rd class. His dreams have not favoured his goal when he suddenly got affected with an intestinal problem and which cost him around 1 lakh rupees.
“Due to very low income, it became hard for my father to manage money for my operation. But thank God, I was successfully operated upon but my father had to strive hard for the money,” he said, “now I help my ailing father in earning some bucks, so that we can repay 1 lakh rupees of loan that was spent on my operation.”
With eye full of tears, he recalls his school days. “It, at some times, becomes unbearable to think about my class work,” he said.
Akram earns Rs 300-500 a day, “and I give all my earnings to my father when I go back home late evening.”
“It gives me happiness that with my daily earnings, our family is able to repay the loan very fast,” Akram said with a light smile amid tearful eyes.
Interestingly, Akram, sells brooms every day outside the Labour and Employment Department in Batamaloo. The department is meant to overlook the menace of child labour in the region.
Like Akram Koli, there are thousands of child labour cases in Kashmir who have stirring tale to tell.
“Lack of adequate and proper educational facilities, difficult monitoring and enforcement of law, poverty has lead to high incidence of child labour with impunity,” an educationist said.
A research report says: “Forced economic necessity has caught many children in domestic labour where they are being oppressed and suppressed by the well-to-do oblivious of the public eye, labour inspection and media attention. These children are separated from their families at the cost of affection of their parents and relatives, which they deserve and also need. Contrarily, they are put to a work environment where they are treated as inferior lot and supposed to obey the dictates of their masters and work even if it exceeds their physical and mental capacity. These children sleep late and wake up early in the morning to dredge for the household and to provide comfort to the children of superior fathers. Devoid of affection, these children feel that they have fallen from sky unto earth and are not born to enjoy the affection of elders and the sweet moments of life. This state of mind which is opposed to principle of natural justice and equity accompanies them throughout their life.”
According to the study report on child labour in J&K, “One more cause for increase in child labour in Kashmir is the prevailing strife in the valley. The ongoing armed struggle in the valley with political background has snatched patronage of many children making them orphans and increasing the number of widows with resultant increase in the number of households with female headship. The loss of breadwinners is bound to compel the children of such families to adopt menial occupations for subsistence and survival of the families.”
Parvaiz Lone, 11, a silky haired boy with chubby cheeks from Sumarbugh Kupwara, some 70 kms away from Srinagar is imbibed with full of innocence, passionate to read and write, and dreams to be called as a “school boy”.
Lone is a street vendor now, whose cart is just outside the department of labour commissioner’s office where Parvaiz is selling slippers and shoes of men and women.
He warmly poses for a click and at the same time shares his ordeal, “in our family, we lost a breadwinner (father) when I was just 8-year-old. We are 8 siblings with 3 sisters, due to poverty and after my father’s death, my family couldn’t bear to send me school, but forced me to do this job, my dreams are shattered and I am hopeless about my future.”
He laments upon his father’s absence and regrets to do this job.
“Had my father been alive, he would have never allowed me to be on busy streets, selling these slippers dawn to dusk, he was eager to see me in school, as we are 4 brothers now, all are labourers so it’s hard for them to admit me in any school due to financial problems,” he narrates the agony his family went through after the death of his father.
According to independent survey report on ‘Child Labour in J&K’: Social, economic and ethical dimension’ there are over 2 lakh child labourers in Kashmir, majority of whom work in handicrafts sector, automobile workshops, brick kilns, agriculture and domestic servants.
Interestingly, while finding the cases of child labourers in busiest markets like Batamaloo, Lal Chowk, Baramulla, scores of people would attract towards us for the registration of their child as a “child labour” in order to “get funds for their children to study”.
“It is mainly due to poverty, our children suffer, we can’t afford to take huge burden f their studies, let the government come up with a comprehensive scheme for our children,” the parents of these children said.
“There are not any NGOs working on ground here which could raise voice against child labour and at the same time the department of Labour sails in the same boat. The officials in the department rest in cosy offices, forgetting the voices and neglecting the innocent children who in scorching heat and harsh wintery days toil hard to support their families,” feels a Kashmir University scholar, Syed Qamran Nabi.
“Why don’t administrations in the state come up with proper policy to eradicate this menace once for all, why don’t they go for proper inspections across the state to find the child labour cases,” said Qamran.
He further said, “let the state government make all possible efforts to ensure that free educational facilities are provided to people at their easiest convenience lest the treading of long distances emerges as an impediment in the way of proper schooling of children.”
In Baramulla, Imtiyaz Hussain (16), works at tyre shop. He is in to this job for two years now.
His hands blackish, full of dust, eyes moist, Imtiyaz from Kupwara district finds his life in misery.
“I never thought that life will take such a horrible turn, my dreams were levelled to the ground and I had no other option than to take this job as my profession,” he said.
“I was in 12th class when my father got was diagnosed of a serious issue in his back. He died soon. Now all the responsibility lies on my shoulders. I have a hand to mouth earning work as a daily wager,” he said.
“When there was no one back home to help run the kitchen, so it was obvious that I have skip the school to run the show,” he said.
He earns Rs 400 a day. He has sisters and an ailing mother.
“Child Labour Act 1986 which bans employment of child below the age of 14-year-old seems to have lost relevance in Kashmir as scores of children can be seen working in many establishments in filthy and hazardous conditions,” said a government official.
While Imtiyaz’s financial problems at home are driving him to work in his early age similarly scores of children of his age are dropouts and start earning due to various constraints.
In Kashmir, the child labour menace is widespread in the automobile, handicrafts sector, hotels and restaurants besides children are used as domestic labour.
The deputy commissioner J&K labour department, Ghulam Rasool Bazaz, while talking to FreePressKashmir candidly shared details.
When asked why there is not any awareness or any programme on this day, he asserted
“We don’t officially observe Child Labour Day; if trade union observes such events, we just pay a visit and at times speak as well,” he said.
While accepting that child labour is a menace and an offence, he said, “in J&K, there is a total ban on child labour, whosoever is found is strictly punished under the court of law.”
Interestingly, he expressed concern over the child labour act 1986, which he finds an act of loopholes and unbalanced as the it state doesn’t provide equal rights to those children who work at their own will or on the consent of their parents.
“We cannot help such cases; such cases don’t fall under the ambit of this act, which is sheer injustice to those who work on their own, to exclude such groups out of this act, clearly depicts that this act needs to be amended,” he observed.
He further informed that the child labour act only applies on those cases where a child is below 14 years of age and is being used as an employee in any establishments like factories, shops etc.
While sharing the child labour report of 2016-2017 with the FreePressKashmir, he said, “we had almost 90 inspections across all the districts in Kashmir province; (but) we detected no cases of child labour so far.”
“Recently in Srinagar district, we detected 03 cases of child labour whose prosecution is pending before magisterial court Srinagar,” he added.
Government has set up at least eleven Child Labour special schools in Srinagar. They have been established in areas like Foreshore road, Kursoo Rajbagh, Habak where scores of children are studying who were earlier recovered from different workplaces.
“In 2011, union government launched a scheme called National Child Labour project where with proper funding 11 schools in Srinagar city have been opened with 250 teachers. We firstly rehabilitate those children who were working in handicrafts sector. We teach them up to primarily levels, then they get into formal mainstream education, we provide them mid-day meals, teach them cutting and tailoring work and provide them 150 rupees stipend,” he said.
When asked what about the independent survey that has been conducted recently, which says 2.5 child labour cases are found in J&K, he replied in a subdued tone: “yes that may be right, but we are not sure about it. We have not conducted any holistic survey which could clearly provide the exact figures. We have only 26 inspectors in Kashmir valley who conduct such survey on child labours.”
He, however, said that the labour commissioner department has meagre staff.
“Administration is putting deaf ears to this issue,” he added.
Suggesting that right to education needs to be forcefully implemented till it reaches to every individual, he said, “raise socio-economic status of those families who forcefully put their children into labours job, ultimately state has to come into rescue to such families.”
He also said that the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) scheme should be enhanced in the state, where more and more educational institutions could come up and a monthly stipend of Rs 150 is raised to Rs 1000.