Another day, another law. The UPA government has just passed legislation on child labour- banning it, as expected. There are several things to be said about this; the first being that this legislation is a huge victory for human rights. Secondly, much of its success depends upon implementation– which has in the past been far from perfect. The third and perhaps the most important aspect is that this bit of legislation is incomplete.
The new legislation creates lots of problems. To begin with– who or what will fill the domestic help gap for the middle class? What could be as efficient and yes as cheap as young domestic help? In India, banning is as good as offering the police the opportunity to slip in bribes and turn a blind eye yet again. The reason the legislation is incomplete is precisely this. Assume for a moment that implementation takes place. Scared middle class households and small shops throw out their young domestic labour, where do these children go? Where do they earn alternate employment? Who is to make them go to school? In effect, where Mr. Prime Minister is the back up plan?
The government estimates that, overall, India has 12.6 million child workers (unofficial estimates place the figures closer to 40 million), of whom somewhere around a million may be employed in homes and restaurants. It seems rather absurd to believe that India will manage to implement its new law for such large numbers when it is still struggling with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in about two-hundred districts.
As Harjot Kaur, director of child labour within the Ministry of Labor and Employment said, “Child labour is not a problem that you can resolve overnight. It is not that today you come up with an act and tomorrow it is eradicated. This is a gradual process.”. So now, child labour is illegal, but what about the roof and the bit of food that has been taken away too?