Srinagar, May 3: In spite of many strict laws existing against child labour in Jammu and Kashmir, the number of minor children, less than 14 years of age, working as labourers is increasing with every passing day.
The children below the age of 14 years are found everywhere in the state, be it on Dhabas, restaurants, shops and do other manual works.
Shahid Bhat, 11, who works as the bus conductor is the sole bread earner of his family. He said, “I lost my father two years before, and then left the studies. I have two elder sisters and my mother in my family, and I am the sole earner of the family.”
He said had the government provided him some support he would have continue his studies.
Another minor who works at the mechanic shop in Srinagar is keen to pursue his education. “When my father first brought me here, my employer promised to send me to school, but to no avail,” he said.
The 2001 census counted 175,000 child labourers in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, though other estimates believe the number is closer to 250,000.
Concerned officials believe that the government’s apathy by not addressing the issue was the main reason for increasing the child labour in the state.
Sources said that the concerned authorities were not doing any raids nor enforcing existing labour laws to curb the menace in the state.
“We don’t have the present figures available about the child labour in Jammu Kashmir. In every state, they conduct the survey on child labour, then making proper planning to curb it. But in our state, no such thing is being conducted which is the main reason of rampant child labour here,” said an official.
An official of the Labour Department said that government was not taking the issue seriously as they have failed to give clear definition of child labour in the state.
Giving an example, he said as per the existing anti-child labour laws those working in unorganized sector are not counted as child labour. “There are hundreds of children working at Dhabas, carpet weaving, or do manual work at homes but they are not counted in the category of child labour,” he said.
He held the conflict for growing child labour in Kashmir. “Thousands of the children workers have lost their parents and guardians in the conflict. In the absence of a family bread winner, these children were forced to work in order to support their families,” he said.
Parents who force their children to work cite various reasons. “Poverty, acquisition of skills, lack of quality education and the inaccessibility of schools are the reasons of child labour,” said a parent.
He suggests that government needs to take some measure so that they could stop this menace here. “Government should start financial schemes for the benefit to the children belonging to poor families so that they could continue their studies.”
It is said that the low educational awareness and the backwardness of many areas have pushed the children towards labour.
A huge percentage of child labour cases, experts say, have been reported from unorganized sectors like handicrafts, where children continue to work without receiving any help from government or from any of its agencies.
“All the children (below 18) who aren’t enrolled at any educational institution amount to child labour because it is the age in which they should have been studying at schools. Though no one wishes to work as labourers at such age, but it is the bleak financial conditions that forces children and parents to do so,” says one of the social activists.
According to persons who studied their problems and carried out research on them, it (child labour) is because of poverty, distress and illiteracy. Thousands of children even below 14 years of age can be seen working as vendors, bus conductors, and in the carpet weaving factories and in workshops.
One of the professors of sociology in Kashmir university said that the existence of Child Labour Act and other laws regarding prevention of child labour appear not to be effective at all because child labour is quite common everywhere. “Moreover, there is neither social security system nor any NGOs working against child labour and government also appears to be indifferent and oblivious of taking serious and punitive action in preventing this,” he said.
He said if government is saying that the child who does the labour by his own choice and is not subjected for the work is not a child labour, the Professor said that if this order is to be believed then there is not even a single case of child labour in the state. “The children here are being converted into the machines so that they could earn money and to sustain their families.”
Another educationist said that during the last 25 years of turmoil, the children of the state have been affected at the worst and that there are more than 80 thousand orphans in the state between the age group of 15-25 years. “The government has to come up with the strong plan that can be implemented on ground so that we could save these children from destruction.”
As regards children working as domestic help, an officer of the labour department says that they can enter shops and establishments to detect child labour but cannot enter homes to locate children working as domestic help or servants. (KNS)