PUCL Bulletin,

December 1992

Education is key to abolish child labour

In the scheme of things that obtain in India, any talk of abolition of child labour, women's progress, uplift of the depressed sections of our people, is futile. Even our first Prime Minister whose birthday 14th Nov is celebrated as Children's Day gave the utmost emphasis on heavy industries, big dams, and technological achievement. And now, the government is concerned with making the country, not the people, "prosperous" by adopting any method which will enable it to get money from funding agencies and governments from the West. The government clearly is not concerned about the people.

Look at our priorities. Elementary and Primary education which should have been on the priority list, is not on that list. The percentage of children going to school in our country is much less in India than in many underdeveloped countries including those in Africa. The drop-out rate too is much less in those countries. Our government has money for everything, but not for compulsory primary education. One does not have to be an economist to understand the simple fact that economic prosperity, or for that matter any development, is just not possible with our education. Furthermore abolition of child labour will be possible only when children are sent to school. As an example, we may refer to Kerala where child labour has been on the decline because of increasing literacy.

The government's stated stand in the matter can be summarised is one sentence: it is not possible to abolish child labour in view of the economic situation of the country. Given this approach, the question of introducing compulsory education for children upto the age of 14 is ruled out. And in that event, abolition of child labour too will remain a distant goal. In fact, it is not in the agenda of the government. How does one explain, therefore, the fact that we have a very large number of children working full-time even in the prohibited list of industries under the most inhuman conditions? Regrettably, it appears that even human rights organisations in India working for abolition of child labour, such as in the carpet industry in Mirzapur, have not applied their mind to the educational aspect of the problem. One activist here and another there may succeed in getting children out of the industry, but what happens to them later? That does not seem to be anybody's problem.

Abolition of child labour does not mean that children aged y for above are not to help their parents in their work. It is indeed good for children to feel proud of their work. Their work, along with schooling, and not at the cost of schooling, at this age can prepare them for the task ahead.

It is often said that child labour will disappear when poverty is eradicated. This is putting the cart before the horse, for poverty can be tackled only when children are educated. Promoting school enrolment, formal and informal education both, is the only way out.

Nov. 14,1992 - R.M.P



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