SRINAGAR: Despite J&K government’s assertion that not a single case of child labour has been detected in Kashmir in 2017-18 huge percentage of child labour cases, 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. Shouting out the names of locations where the Tata 407 mini bus treads with a hoarse voice that doesn't match his tender age, Shabir 13, a kid who works as a conductor on a local bus here is one of the many cases of child labour in Srinagar.
The irony is that the bus he works on every day passes the Labour and Employment department at Batamaloo which overlooks the menace of child labour in the region. Shabir due to his strong hold on mathematics had aimed to be an engineer but destiny had stored something else for him. He unwillingly had to take the tough job of a conductor after his father passed due to the long term illness. Months after the death of his father, who was the sole bread winner of a family which comprised of 5 members, Shabir had to leave his studies half way to shoulder the responsibilities of his family.
By now Shabir is associated with this profession from last 4 years. His innocence is lost to the vigorous work he does every day by travelling through the dusty roads of Srinagar city. "I never thought that life will take such a horrible turn. My dreams were leveled to the ground and I had no other option than to take this dirty job as my profession," he says.
Child Labour Act 1986 which bans employment of child below the age of 14 years old seems to have lost relevance in Kashmir as scores of children can be seen working in many establishments in filthy and hazardous conditions. While for Shabir, the financial problems at home are the driving force to work in his early age, similarly scores of children are school dropouts and start earning due to various constraints.
Mohammad Iqbal, 68 years old, does not feel shy to admit having put his teenage son, Mehmood, to labour at a brick kiln in the outskirts of Valley to pay off the debts. “I have taken debt from people and I have to pay it back. If my son won’t help me with it, who will?” Iqbal questions. He admits that the conditions of work are not healthy for his 14-year-old son but says, “I do not have an option.”
Today the child labour in Jammu and Kashmir is widespread mostly in the automobile sector, handicraft sector, hotels and restaurants and domestic labor. A huge number of the children can be seen working as waiters, domestic servants, at petrol pump, car parking areas, and selling flowers or dusters on the roadside. According to a report on 'child Labour in J&K' Social, economic and ethical dimension' there are 2.5 lakh child labourers in Kashmir, majority of whom work in handicraft sector, automobile workshops, brick kilns, agriculture and domestic servants.
While the menace continues unabated, the Labour and Employment department ironically during the last year has not prosecuted a single establishment for employing a child to work in unhygienic conditions. The Central government has also launched National Child Labour Project earlier in 1996 but the stipend provided for the rehabilitation of recovered children is negligible.
Under this scheme the Labour Department was providing a monthly stipend of Rs.150 to the children besides giving them basic education and vocational training. There are almost six child labour special schools in Srinagar in areas like Foreshore road, Kursoo Rajbagh and Habak where scores of children are studying who were earlier recovered from different workplaces. The officials at the Labour and Employment department blame the lack of the rehabilitation centers for the children as main reason behind the tardy implementation of Child Labour Act in the state.
"Even if we book any person under Child Labour Act but the question arises who will take care of family of the child?As these children belong to the poor families the stipend of Rs 150 under National Child Labour Project (NCLP) is not enough for them to run their family. There is no rehabilitation part in the act. Further even if we book a person he arranges a medical certificate of a child showing him above 14 years," said an official pleading anonymity.
In a 2009 study conducted by the Central Asian studies department at the University of Kashmir, it was stated that nearly 34 per cent of child labourers have only received a fifth-grade education, while just over 66 per cent have only studied up until the eighth grade. Once they start working, 80 per cent of child labourers stop attending school altogether. It states that 9.2 per cent of child labourers are between five and 10 years old, while 90 per cent of them are between 11 and 14 years old. More than 80 per cent of the child workforce comes from families with six to 10 members, with just over 15 per cent from families of 11 to 15 members. Furthermore, over 61 per cent of parents of child labourers are illiterate. The major reason for child labour is poverty.