The poor child’s future

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on September 05, 2012

The Associated Press picture on the first page of Monday’s edition of The Hindu showing two kids, one being carried by the other, purportedly working in the coalfields of Odisha, was, to say the least, poignant. The message it carried for the nation was that these young citizens are even now beginning life’s journey in the wrong way, reminiscent of times when planned economic development was not implementable, perhaps not even thought of, when the economic direction of the country was in the hands of a foreign power.

Sixty-four years have passed since Independence, and even now such scenes are not uncommon in nearly every part of our vast country.

What has been done?

This is not to suggest that no development worth the name has taken place, but the question is why has not the pace of progress been much faster than has been registered. More fundamentally, why is it that politicians do not get shocked by what such photographs portray, to the extent that they are forced to launch protest movements to highlight the failure of the powers that be in this specific regard? Is it because such photographs depict scenes which are “commonplace”, which are taken for granted and, therefore, do not strike any strong chord, political or otherwise, in our hearts and minds?

If India is to have a future which can stand up to the depth and richness of its civilisation, it is the lives of such children as depicted in the picture in focus that must be improved. Why are these young things still toiling in the mines and in the fields, in the grimy workshops of carpet-weavers and firecracker-makers when they should be in classrooms? In short, what has been done for them since 1947 when Indians themselves took over the responsibility of governing the nation?

Two pointed developments have taken place in this period which could be cited as feathers in the cap of our leaders as far as the welfare of the child is concerned, especially poor children who find little or no opportunity at all to make any headway in life. As a result, the vast majority of these kids are locked into the vicious circle of “poverty-lack of opportunity to break out of it-poverty”.

Two acts

One of these is the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 and the other is the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, both of them being integrally complementary to each other.

Normally, the Right to Education Act should have preceded the Child Labour Act so as to ensure that the children, between six and 14, freed from the shackles of labour would have gone straight into the schools stipulated under the Education Act, which in fact was to be fully implemented within three years “from the commencement” of the Act. But of course it was done the other way round by our politicians for, no doubt, very valid reasons. Not only that, it is only just last week that the Cabinet approved an amendment to the Child Labour Act, which will enable the banning of child labour in all spheres of work for children, and not just in the hazardous sectors.

Admittedly, with this amendment, India will be able to ratify the relevant International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions and thus join the large body of ILO members which have already done so much earlier. But will all this lead to a better chance for the poor Indian child to look forward to a better life in their own lifetime? This may sound silly, but perhaps it will not be too fanciful to suggest that the future of India will be determined by the answer.

Published on September 05, 2012

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