Every other day, “Ae Chotu, zara ek Chai to Pila” (Hey kid, give me a cup of tea) falls into our ears; most of us witness several such ‘Chhotoos’, and ‘Gudiyas’ serving various households, shops, ‘Dhabas’, tea vendors, mines, factories and so on. We all quietly observe, pretend to be ‘a little concerned’, still remain silent, and, then ignore to escape from the ‘situation’, and finally, move on. These young earners are not necessarily ‘taking care’ of their ‘family businesses’ in their ‘free time’. They are mostly younger than the age, ‘law’ permits for a child to ‘earn’. Moreover, these kids are usually school-dropouts or non-school-going and deeply poverty stricken. Aren’t we all responsible towards their ‘normal upbringing’?? Executive Director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy quotes “When the lives and the rights of children are at stake, there must be no silent witnesses.” …… But most of us are…. Aren’t we? Aren’t we all rejecting our conscience without raising any voice against such victimization…?? Let’s find out….
Child labour and poverty are inevitably bound together and if you continue to use the labour of children as the treatment for the social disease of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labour to the end of time.
— Grace Abbot
It was 12th of June. There was a lot of hustle-bustle going on in our neighbourhood. Loads of preparations were taking place for little Ria’s birthday (Any similarity to any name or person is merely coincidental). And why not, she had completed her first year on this planet after all. It had to be a special day. All kids of the block were invited to celebrate her Big Day. A beautiful floral Pink invitation card lying on study table, caught my sight. Quite curiously I was about to pick and view the card, but before I could do it, my nephew instantly took it into his possession as if I was trying to steal something very ‘precious ‘and dear to him. He announced proudly with his head held high that he was among the esteemed invitees, and the only one from ‘our’ home. Looking at his glaring eyes, we could all feel his excitement. The guests were supposed to reach Ria’s home at 5:00 in the evening, but my oh-so-excited nephew left for his little friend’s birthday party well before time. Anyway, till evening, little birthday girl’s home converted into an all pink theme decorated palace.
High volume music and ear-piercing songs were making every one of us uncomfortable and almost deaf. Even talking to each other inside our own home was not easy. We were all literally screaming to understand each other. Suddenly, around half past six, our doorbell rang, so I hurriedly got up from my chair and opened the door. Our little chatter-box stood there quietly, along with a boy his age. Other boy was looking pale with bruises on his hands and face and layers of dry tears rolling down, trying to spill some beans. My nephew brought him inside and announced that the other boy was going to stay with us that night and requested us to provide him some food.
We were quite astonished to see a sudden change in my nephew’s behaviour. He was confidently speaking his mind. We could see some kind of a spark, a conviction in his eyes, so without asking anything, I went into the kitchen to get some food. It seemed as if the ‘poor boy’ had not eaten for years! Even the enormous meal didn’t seem to satisfy his hunger. He kept eating and, I, serving. After a while, when the boy was done, he murmured tiredly something to my nephew’s ear, after which our boy took him to his room.
I had never seen my ten-year-old nephew so stern, and, so serious. With a grave look on his face, he enquired about Police Helpline number. Now, I had had enough of being a mute watcher. Before, I could ask anything, my little boy hid his face on my lap and started howling with pain, anger and grief. I had already sensed something ‘fishy’ by that time, so I pulled his face up and asked him with fear and concern what had gone wrong and who and what was the other boy.
In between sobs, from what he narrated, we could imagine what he must have gone through. He told us that when he reached little Ria’s home, he found everyone having lunch. When, the lunch was over, it was servants’ turn to have the remaining food. Little Birju (whom my nephew brought home) couldn’t eat as he was sent to buy some decorative material. By the time he returned, it was four o’ clock and there was no food left. He was told that he would get food in the night but, out of strong hunger, he opened one of the ‘sweet’ boxes to eat a few pieces out of it. Ria’s aunt saw him and made a mountain out of a molehill. Result?? Little Birju was badly abused and beaten black and blue. My nephew saw and tried to intervene, but, he was told to stay away from the matter and also, that affluent people and their kids are not supposed to be friends with impoverished. And when my nephew escorted him further, they threw Birju out of their home without paying him his dues. Our little one asked, “was it Birju’s mistake if he was born in a poor family?” It took a task to make him eat and sleep that night.
“Yes, he is right. A child cannot decide the place of his or her birth. wherever a child is born, a new life begins which needs complete protection and a fulfilled childhood. All children are alike, their needs and feelings are alike. A child is the future of a state, so, it is actually the responsibility of a state to nurture a child’s childhood, purity and innocence. How can we expect a child, whose childhood went through oppression, grows up as a responsible and a caring person? Because of the fact that such kids go through cruelty, hardships, misery and abuses since their childhood, their dreams die or remain unfulfilled by the time they grow. They become frustrated and revengeful. When they grow, either they remain poor because of lack of education, or if, somehow, they become resourceful, then try to fulfil their wishes by any hook or crook. They become power hungry to balance what they once lacked in life. This brings and creates major social problems. This is the reason, every child’s normal upbringing with a beautiful childhood is essential not only for him or her, but also for a state.
According to International Labour Organization, the term “child labour” is often defined as ‘work’ that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age. Labour that jeopardises the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, either because of its nature or because of the conditions in which it is carried out, is known as “hazardous work”. Among Africa, Australia, South-East Asia, Brazil, England and other countries, India is home to the largest number of children who are working illegally in various industries, and, that too, in a much younger age than the permitted age.
It was half past nine. Suddenly, a blaring and deafening sound coming from Ria’s home broke my chain of thoughts. It continued till ten in the night. Early next morning, we took Birju to Ria’s home to get him his dues. There we saw Birju’s parents getting rebuked by Ria’s parents. Birju’s parents kept pleading them with folded hands to take Birju back to work and pay the dues as this was their only living source. I was shocked to know that. When I enquired with them, I came to know that due to heavy drinking habits, Birju’s father had severe liver problems which needed operation. So Birju was earning that money.
We handed Birju to his family, donated some money to them with a promise in return, that he will not be put into such kind of domination. We provided them addresses of a few NGOs which help and aid such people in despair. As we left and proceeded towards home, I saw Thirteen-year-old ‘Pawan’ collecting all the birthday party left overs thrown out of Ria’s house. Pawan was the eldest among five siblings and was working as a rag-picker.
When we entered our main door, morning news broadcast on Radio regarding various celebrations held on the occasion of “World Day Against Child Labour” which was observed on 12 th June fell into our ears. Several statements, slogans and provisions were declared and carried out on the occasion. As I turned to lock the door, I saw Birju standing in dilemma outside Ria’s home, and his parents leaving him behind for their native place with the money.
“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
— Nelson Mandela