UP is home to 20 per cent of India's child labourers

State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights is still not top priority of government
It is indeed a matter of grave concern that 20 per cent (1,927,997 to be exact) of India's total (12,666,377) child labour force lives in Uttar Pradesh. It is a fact that there is no dearth of grants, aid, projects and schemes for creating a child-labour-free state and yet, instead of declining, the percentage of child labour is growing by leaps and bound in the state. Read more

Children, it seems have never been on the priority list of the state government. No wonder that when other states have had a Commission for children for years Uttar Pradesh still does not have a Commission for the Protection of Child rights. It is also often observed that important functionary; including ministers of concerned department always avoid attending children-centric functions. It is never a clear cut no, just a last minute ditch with some lame excuse.

The most conspicuous absentee was the minister of employment and labor, Mr. Badshah Singh, UP at one of the most important function organized on International Child Labor Day in the state capital on June 12. Mr. Singh who was the chief guest at a UP government and UNICEF jointly organized seminar missed the golden opportunity of being part of a drive that aimed at improving the lot of those unfortunate children who live below the poverty line. He did not even realize that his presence would have added so much weight age to the seminar on the lives of those children who are forced to live a life of misery and want, just because they have to earn a few rupees for the need of their families’ daily needs.

The message was clear and simple. The government never cares simply because children are not voters. The same minister would never have done this had it been a seminar on labourers and where he could have reiterated the government commitment to 'serve its people.' After all the assembly elections are round the corner and wooing voters is the top agenda of the government.

Not that the absence of the minister did in any way dampen the enthusiasm of other UP government officials, lead by labor commissioner S R Meena, UNICEF representatives including Ms Adele Khudr, chief field officer, UNICEF, Uttar Pradesh. Last but not the least the enthusiasm of the 100 odd children from Uttar Pradesh’s labor department’s special Child labor schools from five districts of Uttar Pradesh - Lucknow , Kanpur , Moradabad , Rai Bareily and Hardoi who had traveled all the way to Lucknow to participate in the seminar was envious. The state labor department runs such schools in 43 districts in the state.

Speakers at the seminar at Paryatan Bhawan, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow, stressed on the urgent need to ensure that all the many good governmental schemes of both the state and Central government were properly implemented to ensure good results. It was said that proper and total access to education for all children, irrespective of their social status was a sure weapon of arresting child labor in the state.

"UP contributes to about 20 per cent of the country’s total child labor force. Though both the Central government and the state government has a policy objective of eradication of child labor, the progress is slow, steps must be taken up to speed up things so that the goal of making the state child labor free is realized," said Ms Adele Khudr, chief field officer, UNICEF, Uttar Pradesh.

She said that while poverty and lack of income of poor families was one of the major reasons which came in the way of wiping out child labor, absence of social protection schemes and safety nets, and poor quality of education not relevant to the children and their families were also responsible for growing child labor in the state.

Ms Khudr called upon the state government to accelerate the creation of the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights. This she said would provide the proper policy framework for child protection. Ms Khudr also urged for better co-ordination between the various state departments to ensure smooth and quicker redressal to issues.

"Children are the best advocates for change; they are the champions of child rights and gender rights. They are the source of energy and potential for the ongoing struggle for a UP fit for children. They are the bearers of UP’s future, so let us give them the windows of opportunity that they deserve," said Ms Khudr.

Mr. S R Meena, labor commissioner, UP government who was present on the occasion interacted reiterated the government’s commitment to work towards creating a child labor-free state.

The theatre by children, prepared by Yayavar group depicted the children as victim in an adult ruled society was very much appreciated.

"The idea was to give children the centre stage so that they could bring about their problems," said Rajib Ghoshal, Child Protection, and UNICEF.

Media as always did not lack in its commitment for a better tomorrow for these children. A photo exhibition tittled '… still working' showing children doing various kind of jobs from driving rickshaws to working at a mutton shop spoke volume for the exploitation of children was also organized at the same venue. The media photo exhibition, supported organized by Media Nest, a forum of journalists that works for the welfare of journalists and their families saw entries from several photographers like N Prithvi Kumar and Manoj Aligarhi.

Students of Amity mass communication, Lucknow, also did not lack behind in creativity - they displaced 100 odd frames of black and white photographs showing children at work.

Kulsum Mustafa
(The author is a senior journalist and Secretary of Media Nest)

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