“Education is the best antidote to child labour”

Interview with Shantha Sinha, anti-child labour activist and founder of MV Foundation

sreelatha

Sreelatha Menon | July 5, 2017


#poverty   #ILO conventions   #International Labour Organisation   #child labour   #India   #child rights   #RTE Act   #Shantha SInha  


How can we ensure that children taken away from labour will have a better future?

By making education a fundamental right. After enacting the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act), it is a state obligation to do all that is necessary to get a child to school. Indeed, the amendment to the Child Labour Act, 2016 complemented the RTE Act in prohibiting child labour in all its forms, making it unacceptable for children to work during school hours. 

Earlier, children used to learn weaving and spinning at home. Today, schemes like MGNREGA and lack of incentives have killed the traditional crafts.
 
I am more worried about children being exploited, made to suffer, even lose their health or their lives, as well as working on traditional crafts, than the fact that traditional crafts are being killed. 
 
There is a tendency to romanticise the whole issue of traditional crafts. It is often viewed that for centuries, traditional crafts sustained rural economy with efficiency which modern systems cannot achieve. As a result it is believed that initiating a child to the family profession as early as possible is beneficial to the child. Thus, not only does the child not have to waste time obtaining irrelevant educational inputs but he can also become a productive citizen and earn a living. This is not very different from the traditional social system where certain professions were earmarked for certain communities. 

 
The approach also divides the society into two broad categories: Those who can afford to wait for their children to equip themselves before they face the challenges of adulthood, and those who need to put their children to work as soon as possible so they do not become a burden on society. 
The first approach is often advocated by those who themselves would never think twice before sending their own children to school and who have no intention of reverting to their own family occupation.
 
The true nature of education is that it equips a person to make a calculated choice at the right time. It is this capacity of a child to decide his or her own future that we take away when we deny education in the name of providing secure employment. 
 
Gandhi and Tagore believed that knowledge came through medium of work. Our education on the other hand consists of bookish knowledge. So is there any use of taking children away from the farms where they learn to cultivate, to just reading and writing.
 
Such an argument is anti-poor child. Such a perspective has left a large number of children working in agriculture and allied activities either for an employer, or on a wage basis as bonded labourers or have been trafficked to faraway, unfamiliar workplaces.  
 
Gandhi and Tagore’s vision of work and education is meaningful only in the context of all children – both rich and poor – who have access to the same curriculum. Let’s recommend working in the farms for the rich children, if it is so valuable for one’s education and to get out of bookish learning.
 
 
 
 

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