Quality education can curb child labour

 Mar  16: One of the most visible sign of backwardness and underdevelopment of a society is existence of child labour. The census 2011 identified more than one crore child labourers in India and 3.5 lakh in Odisha though this is not the correct estimation of the number but there is no decline in the figures between 1971 and 2011 in spite of our efforts in many fronts by Government and others.

Employment of children below the age of 14 years is prevented under provision of law under the Child and Adolescent Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act 1986. There are a number of legislations related to protection of children from injustice and exploitation and also programme for their care and development being enforced and implemented by international bodies, Central and State Governments for a long time, where trade unions and NGOs have been playing a very vital role.

Studies found that one of the vital reasons of child labour is lack of quality primary education and prevalence of dropout for a number of socioeconomic and socio-political and administrative reasons which have been overlooked by the Government in its various interventions. The dropout students become child labourers.

In the context of Odisha, the prevalence of child labour is very high not because of poverty but lack of socio-legal awareness among public about its prevention. The second most important issue is all about our social mindset towards children, children of our own family, and children outside family where most of the people have double standards in practice. The sensitiveness of a society towards its children is being reflected in its public behavior as it is being observed that mostly children are employed in public places such as hotels and garages which places are every day being visited by hundreds of people but no public reaction against such inhuman practices being visible witnessed.

These children employed in public places are mostly from the marginalized sections of our society who are not just poor but from socially oppressed communities. In a caste ridden society the general sympathy and fellow feeling are socially motivated by caste-based ideas where social obligations are not human centric and traditional social laws are consistently predominant over modern constitutional values and principles without much radical change. The very mindset of the people towards children in general need to be changed based on international human rights values and principles and the Government must adopt the principles of the convention on rights of the child not just by framing laws but by really translating the laws into practice at all levels.

It has been observed that our so-called social traditions, customs and many anti-people rituals and practices are being unnecessarily glorified and routinely enforced without thinking about their implications over social life and human relationships in public.

It is being observed that the law enforcement authorities and service providers paid are more committed to their traditional social and religious values but not to the constitutional values. Most of us are more protective towards our own children whereas for others we do not have such feeling or commitment. After seventy years of constitutional governance, these days we have achieved constitutional Government and modern laws at par with international standard and built dedicated institutions, programmes and monitoring mechanisms, but one thing we need to change is our mindset towards fellow human beings that we all are equal and so we all need equal treatment and equal opportunity.

In this context, the most important intervention must be to strengthen quality free primary education which can prevent child labour. Kerala in January 2016 became the first State in the country to achieve 100 per cent primary education and it is also ahead of many social development indicators. That is the reason why Kerala has very less number of child labourers in comparison to other States. But as per report of the Odisha School and Mass Education Minister in State Assembly over status of primary education, the CAG report, the Child Census of the State, NCERT’s All India School Education Survey (AISES)report, and ST and SC Development Department Minister’s report in the Assembly show a very negative projection about primary education status in the State. The State Government has not been properly implementing the SSA and the RTE Act, 2009.

It is reported that the enrolment in Government schools has been consistently decreasing whereas the number of private schools and student enrolment ratio in them has been increasing. Though the Government has been providing Mid-Day Meal, free uniform and textbooks, the dropout rate has not been controlled. Under the Rights of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, education up to 8th standard is made free but still there are thousands of schools with single teacher and single classroom. There are over a thousand of rural habitations without primary school within one km and hundreds of villages have no upper primary school within three km. It is mostly the SC and ST dominated habitations which have schools in distance places. There are under qualified teachers, even under matriculates without any professional qualification on teaching. Thousands of posts of teacher are vacant in different schools. It is said by the School and Mass Education Minister that in order to follow the RTE norms, the State needs more than one lakh teachers. Many of the schools in interior parts lack basic infrastructure, class room, library, drinking water, sanitation facility and it is reported that about 80 per cent schools have no playground. The State Government has decided to close many schools in an attempt to streamline the expenditure. As the Government is the largest provider of primary education, the privatization of education is going to increase child labour among the marginalised.

The most atrocious miseries are being faced by the students of SC and ST community who are residents of Ashram schools run by the State ST and SC Development Department. The State has reported a number of deaths of children in residential schools and atrocities against girl children. There have been complaints of snakebite, insecurity due to lack of boundary wall, lack of sanitation, proper drinking water and electricity. There has been lack of regular communication among parents, teachers and Government officials about the students’ performances and living conditions in the hostel. The social situation of Dalit students in day schools and hostels have not changed much, especially in rural and interior parts, as the practices of untouchability and caste-based discrimination continue.

The Dalit students face mental torture, social humiliation and abuse by fellow upper caste students, teachers and non-teaching staff which is major reasons of dropout and child labour. These issues of social discrimination must be discussed in forums such as the Odisha State Council for Protection of Child Rights (OSCPCR) and other related bodies. The international organizations, NGOs, CSOs, and child rights organizations in the State should focus more the issues of the marginalized children. Caste-based discrimination restricts access of the poor and marginalized to quality education and the realization of rights depends more on the State intervention.

The OSCPCR in its report on migration mentioned that a huge number of children from western Odisha are migrating every year to various parts of the country with their parents and the commission has recommended for seasonal hostels. The rural poor landless agricultural workers, sharecroppers, unorganized sector workers, forest dwellers, fisher folk are unable to support their children due to lack of employment and assured income throughout the year along with social discrimination. The children of these marginalized poor families become school dropouts and child labourers. So attempt must be made to ensure quality primary education for all to prevent child labour.