While it is a blatant fact that India has been unable to stop child labour, exploitation of children in one or the other guise continues unabated. J&k state with comparatively lesser number of BPL souls is facing a kind of resurgence of the scourge of child labor. In a shocking video uploaded on internet recently, Sajad Rasool, a journalist and RTI activist has added a new perspective to the menace of child labor. The video has shown children between the age of 6 and 13 toiling at a public project being taken under MNERGA, a flagship programme of Government of India for rural employment generation.
In a 2011 book, ‘Child Labor: A Curse of Jammu and Kashmir’, Dr. Fayaz Ahmad, has highlighted absolute neglect of anti child labor law in Kashmir. According to the author there are more than 200,000 child laborers in J&K.
Children selling maize cobs, sub standardized fruit on the Jammu Srinagar national highway is a common scene. Other children work as mechanics, restaurant and domestic help, besides being employed as bus conductors.
Lately professional beggars in Srinagar have found a new tool to gain public sympathy. These are being seen carrying infants and young children, who would demand money on their behalf. While all this happens in public domain, no governmental agency seems to be bothered.
Carpet weaving, the so called pride of Kashmir presents the ugliest story of exploitation of little hands that weave beautiful carpets. Based on their research entitled ‘Child labour in Carpet Industry of Kashmir’, authors Dr. A. Gani, and Dr. A. M. Shah, report that “Carpet industry draws highest number of child labourers in Kashmir”.
According to the researchers, “Poverty, distress, illiteracy and traditional occupation compel parents to send their children to these workshops. These children are robbed of their future, childhood, education, mental and physical growth and overall development. They are exploited to the maximum extent and in a much dehumanized way.”
Many of these carpet-weaving factories are located in areas deep inside Dal lake thus making them inaccessible to the people who could report child labour to authorities. The carpets woven by children are considered valuable because the tender fingers can tie more knots per-inch than an adult.
But the employers cannot be blamed, who believe that they are as much victims of circumstances as these poor children. These carpet weavers complain of exploitation by traders that force these to employ cheap child labour in-turn., “I work from 8 am till azan is announced in the evening at a stretch with mere wages of 5-20 rupees per day.” said 12 year old Gulzar, engaged in carpet weaving.
Of course complaining and reporting about child labour will not solve the problem forever. If at all these sweat shops are closed forever, the question remains where will these poor children go? Owners of carpet workshops like Hasan Changa, whines “These children have nowhere to go; if we close these workshops, these children will eventually starve.”
In the face of a blanket ban on child labor, there is no question of fixing wages for these innocent labours by the government. The probable solution lies with recognition of children’s right to work. Since successive governments have failed to rescue them, the children may be given the right to learn a skill and support their poor families, of course not like slaves, deprived of basic education, recreation time and their personal development. They should be treated as future of industry like carpet weaving, as skilled workers with respect and equal rights like the rest of the fraternity.