Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I am in a turmoil. Should children be allowed to work as domestic help as is common practice in Indian households? My own family has a few cases where children are hired for washing utensils or clothes or sweeping and mopping. Its a very difficult thing to fight a norm which is acceptable to everyone because "that's the way it works".

I live in Maharashtra and that too I live in the commercial hub of India - Mumbai. Life is different here than the places where child trafficking is on the rise. Children from poor states are sold through an intricate network of dalals or pimps. Often it is the parents themselves who force the child to work as they have no means to feed themselves. Poverty in the third world is a wretched ugly cousin that follows you everywhere. Of course its easier to "discuss" these issues "intellectually" rather than face them. Unlike the west, where the lifestyle of individuals reduces dependence on others for domestic work, In countries like India the cheapest thing available is labor. I wonder if China also faces the same issues but I somehow think that China is culturally more strong in their values than us Indians.

There are government programs that go unimplemented in most states. The funds are siphoned off before they reach the people they were intended for. The midday meal scheme that operates probably only in Mumbai is often reported in papers where children have fallen ill after consuming the food. Why? Well because food grain quality, safe and hygienic storage are compromised. I doubt if any authorised body audits the quality of government work.

So the poor children in Mumbai are a tad better off or maybe a whole lot better off than the poor children in Uttarpradesh or Bihar or Jharkhand or Orissa or West Bengal. Of course working in households is the way out of poverty or at least keeps them from going hungry. Middle class India has a huge demand for domestic labour and like every gap, this one too is filled. If the government had the safety net for these people or enough NGO's with sufficient funds were able to help, hundreds of thousands children would be going to school to learn how to not get ripped off rather than working for years in peoples homes.

As usual, the government is still working on the bill for right to education for children. Hopefully one day we will not be allowed to hire children as domestic labor. And the same would attract a criminal charge. But the government will have to find ways to fill the gap for money that these children were earning. If they do not find a solution for this, the problem would remain half solved which is no good.

While I write, I realise that I will have to find my own solution when I stand on the spot. Its a very disturbing spot is all I can say now. It just does not go down well that I am hiring the services of a child that should ideally be in school.

Maybe I don't understand how "the world actually works". I hope there would be some solution at hand when I get to this sticky spot. I also hope that in my own way I would be able to change the world I operate in.