Despite ban, kids continue to be hired as domestic help

NEW DELHI: Durga, an orphan, worked as a domestic help in a software engineer's Bangalore home. The 15-year-old was given food left by the couple's pet dog served in an ashtray full of cigarette butts. 

Goindi from Jharkhand ate dough and raw rice stolen from her Delhi employer's kitchen to kill hunger pangs because she was never given enough to eat. 

Orissa's Geeta was paid only Rs 10 a day for turning over 1,000 bricks at a kiln in Cuttack. 

As the world celebrated Anti-Child Labour Day on Friday, children like Durga were just grateful to be rescued from conditions that may have scarred them for life. Despite a three-year-old ban on child labour in domestic work and in eateries (restaurants/dhabas/hotels), a national social audit has found that not only is the ban flouted with impunity but thanks to lack of effective implementation and resources, there is little by way of rescue and rehabilitation of these children. 

Conducted by Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) and Campaign Against Child Trafficking (CACT), the audit covered 12 states and found that the number of children rescued in the last three years was a fraction of the number employed in the unorganised sector. 

The latest Census inputs suggest that 1.86 lakh children below the age of 14 are engaged as child domestic workers, while the figure for those working in dhabas, restaurants and hotels is about 70,934. Official estimates peg the total number of children in both sectors at 2.56 lakh while unofficial data says that around 20 million children are employed in the two sectors. 

According to data collected by the audit through RTI, only 5,096 children were rescued from 10 states. Data available for three states showed that the number rehabilitated was 797 while the number of children to receive benefits from the child labour rehabilitation fund was a bare 78. 

The audit found that survey and information on children employed in domestic work was harder to come by. An indication of the problems in even detecting violators of the child labour act was lack of data available for children rescued from domestic work. In a state like Delhi that has an estimated 50,000 child workers, only 23 children were rescued between 2006-2009. 

In a scathing indictment of the system, findings of a highway sample survey done by CACL showed that there were 909 children working on various highway dhabas across Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. 

CACT's Bharti Ali demanded that child labour be made a cognisable offence and investments made in child labour elimination programmes. NGOs have demanded child tracking systems and better coordination between the labour and the women and child development ministries.