Saturday, October 11, 2008

Indian children work despite ban
A child worker at a tea stall
Children often work for long hours and get paid little

Millions of children under 14 continue to work as domestic servants or at food stalls two years after India banned their employment, say activists.

Activists say there has been little progress in curbing child labour as only 12,000 children have been removed from illegal employment since the ban.

According to official statistics, there are 255,000 children employed in homes and at roadside food stalls.

But activists say their numbers could be as high as 20 million.

According to Save the Children, the number of children working in homes in Delhi alone is seven to eight million.

According to the 2001 census figures, India has more than 12.6 million child workers. Children's groups put that number at between 35 to 60 million.

'Major problem'

"There has been very little progress. The problem of child labour at homes and in roadside food stalls is large in terms of numbers," says Thomas Chandy, head of Save the Children in India.

Since the ban came into effect, the labour ministry has carried out 12,000 operations to remove children from illegal employment, but there have been only 211 prosecutions.

A child worker at a tea stall
Poverty forces many parents to send their children to work

"Police are unable to bring in charges, to hold someone responsible, to punish the offenders - that is a major problem," Mr Chandy says.

This fails to deter those who employ children and often make them work in unhealthy conditions for long hours and little pay, he says.

"It's a form of slavery. On an average these children are paid 1,000 rupees [a month, about $20], sometimes even less. And they are being abused, physically, often sexually too. And the government lacks the will to deal with the problem," Mr Chandy says.

Crippling poverty forces parents across India to send their children, sometimes as young as five or six, to big cities and towns to work in other people's homes or in factories.

A government committee had earlier warned that children under 14 were vulnerable to physical, mental and even sexual abuse.

The child workers are not organised and as they work within the confines of the home, they are unseen and unheard and their abuse goes unreported.

"We need a large awareness campaign so that people know that employing children is illegal. And prosecution of the offenders has to be much quicker if we want to deter others," Mr Chandy says.

"We are not happy at this point, a lot needs to be done."

Ineffective

The ban on employing children from working as domestic servants or in teashops, restaurants, spas, hotels, resorts and other recreational centres came into effect on 10 October 2006.

Officials said that anyone found violating the ban would be penalised under the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act of 1986.

Punishment ranges from a jail term of three months to two years and/or a fine of 10,000 to 20,000 rupees (about $200-$400).

However, activists say laws have remained ineffective in curbing child labour.

India bans the use of young workers in hazardous industries, but thousands of children continue to work in firecracker and matchstick factories or are involved in carpet-weaving, embroidery or stitching footballs.

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