Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Child business

When I began to research this business of child domestic labour, the first thing I had to grapple with was the complicated links between this issue and all other issues.

According to SACCS (South Asian Coalition against Child Servitude), there are at least 30 lakh unorganised workers in the capital. Most of them get an average wage of Rs 1200-1500 a month. Who can support a family on that? (The official minimum wage in Delhi is supposed to be around Rs 3250 per month. This will enable a family to just about survive in a city).

Even if you assume that both mother and father manage to find jobs, and manage to get paid Rs 1200 each, manage to rent a tiny room to live in, even then, they will not be able to afford a decent life for the kids. Sooner or later, and sooner rather than later, the kids will have to pitch in.

Consequently, in Delhi, there are no less than 5 lakh child labourers. At least 50,000 of them are domestic servants.

SACCS stimates that 70% of most shops don't even have one weekly off, forget things like bonus or maternity leave. The problem is compounded by the fact that, at some point in the capital's recent history, the government made registrations unnecessary for shops and commercial establishments. No registration. No rules. No official records that the shop ever existed, that some poor boy called Ramu or Chotu or Kallu worked there, ten hours a day, for X amount - with Y amount deducted at source, for the privilege of sleeping in the shop, when the shutters are downed.

Most servants - domsetic or commercial - have no way of proving that they have ever worked at a given place. Nothing is in writing. No disputes can be settled.

The result?

People are afraid to ask for minimum wages and for the benefits they're entitled to. People will quietly take home what they get and when they can't manage, they'll start sending the kids out to work.

As one of the activists I met, put it, "As long as you have families below the minimum wage, you WILL have kids forced into work. You WILL have that begging child rapping on your car's window. You WILL see little kids picking up plastic bags, poking about in garbage dumps."

As long as you have parents working below the minimum wage, you cannot hope to save children from exploitation.

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