“Well, if we don’t recruit children from Assam, they will get into more trouble, as who will then feed them? By working for us, at least they get to eat properly,” came a sympathetic response from a villager in Kimin block.
As part of a team studying human trafficking in our state, I visited Kimin block in Papum Pare district, due to its close proximity with Assam, in the winter of 2017. Another part of our team in Assam had informed us that almost 80 percent of the local children (from the tea tribes) are recruited in Arunachal Pradesh as domestic help, agricultural labourers, daily wage labourers, and as unskilled labour force. These children are spread across the districts of Arunachal Pradesh, with a major concentration in the capital complex.
In Kimin block, these children were present in hundreds. A few made the transit every day from work in the tea gardens while most others were employed in the capacity of domestic help in the houses of the towns. Ranging in the age group of 6 to 14 years, these children had come to be employed for meagre salaries between Rs 500 to 1500 per month, ie, Rs 16 to Rs 50 per day. While the salary rates differed in the capital complex, the statistics of prevalence remain the same.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and interferes with their schooling by (a) depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, (b) obliging them to leave school prematurely, or (c) or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.
In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses, and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities – often at a very early age.
Child labour is engaged in the agriculture, industries, and services sectors. The worst forms of child labour are sale or trafficking, pornography, debt-bonded labour, and child soldiers.
“It is not just the Assamese children; even local tribal children from the villages come to study in the towns and often stay with their relatives. However, they do not do much studying as they become cheap labour for their relatives in return for food and shelter,” said one a school teacher when I asked about the migrant children in their town.
“They wake up the earliest, finish all the work first, and then come to school. After school, they go back and do whatever their relative asks of them at that time. Thus, we have to take longer classes so that most of these children finish their homework in the school itself, as we know most of them won’t get to study at home,” added another teacher.
According to the ILO, globally 152 million children between the ages of 5-17 are child labourers, of whom 73 million are engaged in hazardous work. Based on the 2011 census, India has 5.6 million child labourers. Laws and legislation are in place to fight against these practices, but it requires collective and integrated efforts in ending child labour and promoting safe and healthy work for young people.
“It is quite difficult to find ‘bontis’ (domestic helpers) these days,” my uncle proclaimed the other day.
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, you have to pay the person who brings the bonti, the person who finds the bonti, the person who made the connection between the first two people, and the bonti’s family. Too many payments have to be made for just one bonti.”
The increasing numbers of child labourers (CL) in Arunachal Pradesh need an urgent introspection on the capability and wellbeing of the future pillars of the nation. Our dailies have reported a couple of cases of physical, emotional and sexual abuses of CL. Diverse perspective and assumptions float when we discuss child labour. Are we shaping CL or slashing their future? How can we stop this inhuman practice in our state? Can they have books instead of tools in their young hands? These are some of the questions that bother us.
On 12 June, 2018, the ILO celebrated the World Day Against Child Labour (WDACL), focusing on the need to end child labour and ensure safety and health of the young workers.
What is required in our state is a culture to stop engaging child labourers in our homes, hotels and other places as apprentices, janitors, babysitters, farm a hands, mining workers, and so on. Imagine the future and wellbeing of these young minds, denied education and childhood (freedom, pleasures, play, and socialization). We have failed to provide free education, childhood, and freedom in their impressionable ages.
We need to envision the future wellbeing of our children, where they grow up with capability and function as self-reliant persons. In order to achieve it, we have to give the best opportunities to our children. The laws have to be followed in their true spirit, and livelihoods of parents and family members should be secured, thereby helping prevent child labour. Not an easy task at all, but not an impossible task either with collective and integrated efforts of individuals, civil society, and the state.
These pillars are essential in upholding the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1992): Survival, development, protection and participation rights of the children. (John Gaingamlung Gangmei is Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, RGU; Ronnie Nido is former research officer, National Research Study on Human Trafficking in India, TISS, Mumbai)