By Priyanka Khanna
Bangalore, June 12 – To commemorate the World Day Against Child Labour, rallies, exhibitions and public meetings were held in this capital city of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. A large number of people came out in support of a state-wide call to ban the age-old practice of children working full-time at homes.
Addressing a gathering of school-going children, some of whom were withdrawn from full-time work, state government’s Minister of Labour Iqbal Ansari said: “We cannot deny children their childhood. Child labour, especially child domestic labour, must end.”
He called upon all government officials to refrain from employing children as domestic help and warned punitive action against those who did. He added: “The Karnataka government has done a lot in the state to end child domestic labour including repatriating children back to their homes in states like Bihar. We will extend all support to anyone working to end child labour.”
The Government of Karnataka is the only Indian state administration that has taken structured and systematic steps to address child domestic labour.
The labour minister was speaking at an event organised by the state’s Department of Labour to honour denizens who have contributed to bringing the plight of child domestic workers to light.
Officials belonging to resident’s welfare associations were recognised for working with the administration and UNICEF to promote awareness on the domestic child labour issue. Besides sensitising, the associations have been working towards ensuring that no child is employed in their respective neighbourhoods. They were honoured by the Makkala Mitra (friends of children) Award
Some of the recipients included Y. Karthikeyan of the Chitramala Apartment Residents Welfare Association, Sumithi Rao who heads the Sterling Heights Apartments Association and is member of civil-society network Swabhimana and Soma Sundara of National Games Villages.
Soma Sundara said: “I have children of my own and want them to have a good life. So how can I treat other children differently? We will continue to extend our support in every way we can.”
“I feel happy that we got this recognition. But, we are only a small number now. More people should join this,” said Sumathi Rao.
The event was graced by Member of Parliament Prema Cariappa, Commissioner of Labour K. S. Manjunath and Michel Saint-Lot, UNICEF’s State Representative for Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, among other important dignitaries.
Addressing the gathering, Prema Cariappa said: “I congratulate the government of Karnataka for their initiatives and would like to see similar steps taken in rest of India.”
While congratulating the Karnataka government for being the first state to address the domestic child worker issue, Michel Saint-Lot called for qualitative monitoring of steps taken to combat child labour.
He added: “It is also important to highlight and reiterate the fact that domestic child labour is equally exploitative as any other form of child labour and there should be zero tolerance.”
Scores of other events were held in the city to mark the day and included participation of various arms of the government like the Department of Information and the police.UNICEF in collaboration with partners and Bangalore’s district administration is working in slums of Bangalore to increase awareness among families about the hazards of children working as domestic help.
The agency works closely with the Bangalore Municipal Corporation, the education department and the labour department in the identification, rescue and education of working children. Along with the Child Welfare Committee, UNICEF has repatriated working children back to their respective homes and is following up on their welfare.
Employing children as domestic workers is a common sight in most cities and small towns across the country. Most child domestic labourers work long hours at very low wages, are lonely and cut-off from family support and denied education and schooling. Verbal and even physical abuse of these children is not uncommon. But the increasingly awareness among the people could be a sign of changing times.
(Sudha Murali, Child Protection Officer for UNICEF Office of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, contributed to this story)