With an amendment to the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act (CLPRA) of 1986, the parliament of India made it a punishable offense to employ children under the age of 14 at any kind of eatery. Employment of children at tea shops, dhabas, restaurants, hotels, etc were all deemed illegal. However, this law, like so many other laws in India, is openly and unabashedly violated. And it is no secret that such violations also takes place in Jamia. [Link]
Anybody who frequents Hygienic Mark Cafe on south campus and the Central Canteen on north campus of Jamia, would have spotted a couple of children cleaning or sweeping the place. So it comes as no surprise when we are told there are children working at Jamia canteens. We are just so used to seeing children working in this country that the sight elicits little or no response. You can in fact, come across people who offer justifications and sometimes even call for the need for child labor in India. (More on this point later in the article.)
Jamia Student Points Out the Obvious
A month ago in December, I received an email from a student by the name of Afreen Gani in which he alleged that the Hygienic Cafe at Jamia employs children. The email was accompanied with a video recording that clearly showed a young boy picking up trash near the Hygienic Cafe. Afreen, later in the video, talks to the young boy through which he learns that the boy’s name is Ehtram, he is only 10-years-old, and is employed by the Hygienic Cafe for Rs. 1200 a month. What is interesting to know, is that the boy lives on campus with his family. His father is one of the laborers working on the construction site in Jamia.
Ehtram, unfortunately, is not the only child working at Jamia canteens. I have personally seen two young boys working at the Hygienic Cafe and two at the Central Canteen.
Watch the video sent by Afreen Gani of his interview with Ehtram, on Youtube here:
Talking about this incident, Afreen said in a written statement:
It was one of those beautiful winter mornings at Jamia University – the warm sun on the back, birds chirping, tea in hand and a snack before me- when I realised all was not as beautiful. As I sat in the Gulshan-e- Khusaru garden next to the Hygienic Canteen, I witnessed a boy of tender age- dragging a cardboard box behind him- collecting empty cups and dirty disposable plates littering the garden, left by satiated students. It was then when the reality hit me and I knew I needed to do something about this depraving practice of child labour present in our society- especially in a prestigious educational institution like ours. The first step I believe is always to be aware and have the knowledge of the problem.
Argument Against Child Labor
As I had mentioned earlier, people try to justify child labor for several different reasons. The most cited reason is that employment of children at tea stalls and other similar eateries helps the poor families enable more of their family members to be productive.
To this Thomas Chandy, director of Save the Children says:
No matter what many believe, the fact is that child labour cannot extricate families out of the poverty trap; in fact, it keeps them locked in the rut for generations. When children end up in the labour market, it affects their physical and cognitive development. For example, 45% of our children are malnourished and about 42% stunted.
A global study conducted by our organisation has shown that there is a 10% drop in the IQ development of malnourished children. The calorific intake of these children is usually low, in fact it’s less than the prescribed starvation diet for quick weight-losers. These poor children, who are often forced to work long hours, are easily susceptible to injury and disease thanks to harsh working conditions. Over a period of time, they become less productive and fall out of the productive work force. By the time they are 40-45 years old, they are often unable to take up any other job. This threatens the survival of their families, forcing the next generation to drop out of school and enter the labour market. This vicious cycle rarely gets broken. [Link]
At the face of it, Afreen has simply pointed out the obvious to us because most of us already knew children were employed at Jamia canteens; but in pointing out the obvious, he has inadvertently revealed to us something more significant. He has revealed to us our indifference towards the plight of the less fortunate that inhabit our immediate surrounding, and more importantly, pointed out our woeful acceptance of violations of law.
In a university with students of human rights, law, and similar liberal studies, nobody except Afreen could recognize an unjust practice taking place right under our noses; and in the event we did, nobody felt the need to do anything about it. What good is the education we take so much pride in if it has no affect on how we interact with the world around us?
If we can be so uncaring and indifferent with regard to poverty-stricken children, who are probably the most vulnerable members of our society, what hope for support and empathy can the women, the old, the sick, and the downtrodden have from the more fortunate and privileged members of our society.