Rights of domestic child labourers

Dr. Bashir A Dabla

The fact stands needs no emphasis that domestic labour (DL) stands as most suffering group among labourers. At the same time, the related fact is that the sub-group of domestic child labour stands as the extreme sufferer in comparison to their elder ones.

It is because the former has not been specifically protected by laws and if relevant laws exist, these are not enacted. Moreover, in the broader Indian society, there is a traditional practice of sending a boy or a girl of lower classes-castes for working in affluent, feudal and elite families in rural as well as urban areas. Even after 1947, sufficient care was not taken in their case. In actuality, they lived on the mercy and will of their masters who included feudal lords, rich-elite families, upper classes, business houses, bureaucrats-administrators, professionals, technocrats, experts, social notables, religious leaders, middle class groups and so on.

It seems realistic to argue that worst suffers among the domestic labourers were ‘domestic child labourers’ (DCL). Their miserable life condition is revealed by their living standard and lifestyle which is not much different from the situation that prevailed during feudal times. Various studies have shown that DCLs were generally engaged without formal understanding and legal agreement. So, those who hire them for round the clock services become their sole masters and lords and decide everything in their life. The DCLs become a commodity which they have got without proper price.

In the preceding context, the Congress Party’s recent proposal for adopting a ‘national policy for domestic workers’ is a welcome step and must be approved, enacted-implemented in as brief period as possible (see The Times of India, 19th May 2011). The draft proposal recommended by National Advisory Council asks for at least 15 days paid annual leave and a minimum per diem of Rs. 115/- for the 45 lakh domestic workers across the country. The union ministry of Labour has also recommended the inclusion of domestic workers under ‘Rashtriya Bima Yojna’. If these legislative acts were pursued seriously and implemented sincerely, it may lead to some degree of safety of their rights and overall welfare of these workers.

Like other states, J&K, particularly Kashmir, has a large number of DCLs who face many problems in their life. Though domestic workers of elder age groups suffer at the hands of their masters, the DCLs have suffered more qualitatively as well as quantitatively. In fact, the latter’s life, its length and quality depends upon their masters. These children are preferred because their parents demand lesser amount of money, their needs are limited and they serve politely day and night, seven days a week and 30 days a month. Thus children of early age groups, 6 to 14 years, are considered as ideal DCLs.

No specific study about these DCLs has been carried out so far. But, the author’s and participant observation in Kashmir has clearly revealed that their life is full of pathetic conditions. Economically, they stand at bottom because they are not paid standard wages. Though they work day and night without any break and holiday, they are paid petty wages, often through their parents. Generally, they get no formal education and no mobility in life. They are not treated socially well but are considered degraded. They are treated silent carriers of religion, culture and tradition. Psychologically, they live depressive life. They hardly uphold any idea or ideology of change, development and freedom.

In this acute situation, what needs to be done can be explained in following points. First, protection of the rights and interests of DCLs through formulation, enactment and implementation of relevant laws and rules. Second, guarantee of equal, regular and standard wages to themselves. Third, total social emancipation through education and economic upliftment by giving them technical and skill-based training. Finally, the government as well as non-government agencies and organizations must start a united effort and joint venture in this regard on short-term and long-term basis.


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