Notifications wont eliminate child labour

Written by YRK Reddy | Updated: Aug 19 2006, 05:30am hrs
The recent notification by the ministry of labour banning the employment of children as domestic servants and in dhabas, restaurants, hotels, motels, tea shops, spas and other recreation centres has been received with understandable cynicism. The notification, under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, will be effective from October 10, 2006. But people are asking, to what effect Many consider this as an insufficient move, if not outright symbolism in the context of an impending Supreme Court judgment.

With almost negligible effort at building capacity in bridge courses, good schools and absence of the necessary incentives, India continues to be a host for the worst forms of child labour, and in great numbers. The National Child Labour Project has had little impact. The rehabilitation system continues to be woefully inadequate and there is neither the vision nor the will to address this at the Centre and in many states.

Andhra Pradesh has charted a new course in understanding the complexity of the problem and approaching it innovatively with external support. The AP experience has shown that more than enforcement, consensus, capacity and coalitions have a better impact. It is creditable that the ILO and the labour department of AP worked closely together to build an innovative structure for elimination of child labour on a lasting scale.

In 2001, they got a strategic document prepared for integrating the employers federations, trade union (TU) organisations, corporate leaders as well as professional management associations as partners in this effort. Such cooperation was not easy from suspecting and often embarrassed employers, but discussions, consensus building and focus on results helped the process. Arising from this strategy document and high-level meetings, a federation of TUs was formed to promote elimination of child labour not merely where such unions exist but also in the households of their members.

The Seedsmen Association, adopted a mandal to make it child-labour free and helped over 900 children join regular schools
Similarly, a consortium of 24-members was formed representing employers federations, sectoral business associations and human resource professional associations. These included the federation of chambers of commerce, employers federations, automobile technicians association, builders association, hotel owners association, association of leather and leather product manufacturers, beedi manufacturers and seedsmen association. This organisation had support from corporations such as VST Industries and the ITC group, who undertook the task of eliminating child labour in their supply chains and outbound logistics.

The Consortium of Employers Associations for Elimination of Child Labours (CEASE-Child Labour) main objective was to facilitate the mainstreaming of child labour as an issue into the activities of member-organisations. It also aimed to establish a constant dialogue with the government and support direct action to start bridge courses for child labour, improve the existing educational facilities, run vocational training courses and occupational schools. It established focal points and child labour cells in the districts and conducted workshops and awareness campaigns.

CEASE-Child Labours efforts resulted in making elimination of child labour part of organisational policies, staff manuals and codes of conduct of companies; collective agreements between employers and TUs to eliminate child labour at homes and in the supply and logistic chains and; development and propagation of best practice guidance for companies and employees.

One member, the Seedsmen Association, adopted a mandal to make it child-labour free and, in the process, mainstreamed over 900 children aged between six and 14 into regular schools. The Andhra Pradesh Hotels Association and the Iranian Hotels Association passed resolutions and commitments to eliminate child labour.

The important lesson from this experiment is that there are better alternatives to mere notifications. The problem of child labour is complexe.g, surveys of restaurants and auto garages have shown that many child labour are actually runaways whose alternative would be begging or petty crime. Consequently, the central and state governments must initiate capacity building, consensus, coalitions and support structures quickly and continue to support them with adequate and committed resources.