Qualifying Child Labour


Despite the controversy surrounding the selection of this year`™s Nobel Prize for peace, jointly shared by a courageous girl from Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, 17, and an Indian social worker, Kailash Satyarthy, 50, it is indeed heartening to see that the Nobel committee thought it important to draw world attention to a widespread scourge of the modern times `“ child labour. This is especially so in the developing world where either the laws regarding the matter is vague or else their implementation lax. In these countries, including India, poverty often drive parents to have their children join the adult world early in life to work and augment family earnings in order to keep the family hearth burning. This being the case it is still very much a common and painful sight everywhere in India so see impoverished children in worksites that demand intensive and hazardous low skill labour, such as at brick kilns, stone and sand quarries, rag picking and even organised beggary on the streets of Indian metropolises.

Children should be in schools learning to be fit to face the big bad world when they become adults. When they are not studying, they should be playing and discovering that life can be fun too. Extreme poverty however still deprives a great many children from these privileges and pleasures of life, and no effort can be nobler than to try and end this miserable predicament. Two cheers then for the Nobel committee for bringing the focus back to fighting child labour. The last cheer we will hold back for the committee`™s unwarranted political bias in choosing to condemn only the atrocities against children by the Talibans, and not show equal concern or condemnation at the killing, maiming and terrorising of numerous other unnamed children in these same battlefields by Drone raids by the armies of the West fighting the Talibans. Malala richly deserves the award, but we also wish in commending the girl for her bravery in her fight against the savagery of the Talibans, the Nobel committee also had at least a word of condemnation against the Drone raids which have killed and terrorised indiscriminately.

While we support the fight against child labour with all our mites, we must however throw in a caveat at the very beginning. This is in regards to the description of child labour which is rather vague largely because of the modern notion of education, where education means only formal education, and in the case of children, school education. We however feel this notion needs to be broadened a little. Many children, especially in indigenous communities, are for instance engaged in parental occupations from very young ages. When it is not parental occupations, they are also sent as apprentices to various workplaces by their parents. In these cases, it would not be wrong to imagine the works they are engaged in constitute education. Indeed, many of these children grow up to be masters of the crafts they pick up at their places of apprenticeships and start successful businesses of their own when they come of age. It is true the line dividing work and lesson can be very thin in these cases, but this is precisely where the government can intervene to ensure these children learn the crafts but not end up exploited or unfit for independent adult lives. The government could also for instance design and set up special schools for these children where they are given basic schooling so their knowledge bases are deepened and career options widened. This not however be at the cost of their informal education at their places of apprenticeships. If a study were to be done, some of the best motor mechanics, tailors, carpenters etc, it would probably be discovered, had such apprentices. This is in keeping with tradition too. Among the Meiteis, many of whose surnames are professional, once upon a time the Thangjams were great sword makers, the Sanabam and Sanasam, great goldsmiths, Sagolsem were horse tenders… Today, the shape given to the economy being such, these crafts families want to trade off their traditional professions so their children can join the hunt for meaningless degrees even if these are worth only a lowly government clerk`™s job.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam


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