Learning unlocks all doors
Newsletter Issue 27 : October 1, 2009 - October 31, 2009
Face of India's Child Labour campaign still working
Source: The National , September 10th 2009
PATNA, INDIA // Thirteen-year-old Chunmun Kumari was once the face of Unicef’s campaign against child labour in India. Three years later, however, she is still working up to 14 hours a day. Although it is at a roadside tea stall run by her mother in the capital of impoverished Bihar state, Chunmun’s fate, like tens of millions of other destitute Indian children, illustrates the failure of the state to enforce child labour laws, advocacy groups say.
Chunmun’s mother, Sita Devi, said Unicef and local government officials
promised financial assistance and free education to her daughter, but
their promises proved hollow. “Initially officials came when her picture
appeared on posters across India. They promised help but nothing was
given to her, actually, not even any compensation for the picture by
Unicef,” she said.
Chunmun aspires to be a teacher, yet at times she spends long hours washing utensils and serving customers tea and snacks at her family’s stall. “I help my mother at the stall for 10-12 hours a day. If there is more work at the stall I often miss my school,” said Chunmun, a pupil at a government school in Patna. Although the school charges a minimal fee every month, she has to buy books and other study materials, which at times is a huge challenge for the impoverished family. “My monthly school expenditure is 300 rupees (Dh26). The [Bihar] chief minister had promised me free education, books, uniform,” Chunmun said.
Chunmun’s father, who was the sole breadwinner, died two years ago,
leaving the family in deep financial distress. She, along with her seven
siblings, started helping her mother round the clock at the stall to
Chunmun became the brand ambassador of Unicef’s campaign to eradicate
child labour at the age of nine. Her family was proud and they
anticipated a secure future for their daughter. “At that time I was sure
she would benefit from the campaign,” said Ms Devi.
Government and volunteer organisations periodically publicise the plight of millions of children toiling to make a living in India through poster campaigns. Under Indian law, employing or forcing children below the age of 14 into work is unlawful and attracts prison sentences of up to a year and a fine. Almost 35 per cent of India’s population are children. Yet the state allocates less than five per cent of its total budget for children’s health, education, development and protection.
Millions of children are working in roadside diners, glass factories,
carpet looms, agriculture and as domestic help. These children are
visible proof that the irrelevance of India’s child labour laws as well
as the legislation’s inbuilt lacunae and the poor child rehabilitation
Children’s rights groups, unsurprisingly, say the main reason behind child labour is poverty and lack of education. Furthermore, the children are often exploited and forced to work at even lower wages, making them attractive workers for viciously profit-minded employers. Such children are vulnerable not only to economic exploitation but also to sexual abuse. In a country like India – where 40 per cent of people live below the poverty line – poor and helpless parents, in order to ease their burden, are often forced to send their children to work.
“The majority of the population does not have access to the basic
necessities of life and live below the poverty line. The problem of
child labour is the direct outcome of poverty and unemployment and
unless poverty is eradicated from society, the problem of child labour
can never be uprooted from society.” says Mahesh Jha, the co-ordinator
for Bachpan, a child rights group based in Patna.