Child Labour: Do Not Employ ………..But Nourish and Empower

The aim in introducing the mid day meal scheme is to ensure that school going children do not suffer pangs of hunger and are motivated to attend school. Food was supplied to schools to make sure that in a healthy body there is a healthy mind. But with the recent midday meal food poisoning of school children in Vasco the scheme has done more harm than good.  This self help group which supplied the contaminated meal to the children is a third time offender in feeding poisoned midday meals to children. No explanation is forthcoming as to how the contract is again allotted to a group that served food which is injurious to life and health. Apart from the absconding Urmilla Salgaonkar, there are others who are equally responsible, specially the Department of Education, the Directorate of Food and Drug Administration and Department of Health. Added to this is the fact of serving biscuits for midday meal and that too with an expired date.
The kitchen is the temple of the body and obviously no checks are conducted to ensure that the place is hygienic, well maintained and clean.  There is some sort of under hand deal that is why the contract is given to the same person who is guilty of having caused food poisoning of school children in the past.  There are rumours that Urmilla is well connected and so the contract was bound to go to her. This scheme is beneficial both to the self help groups as well as school going children provided care is taken to see that both life and health of the child is a priority. The purpose for which this scheme was formulated is defeated when the self help groups and the officials who have to do a quality check fail in their duty.  Quality of food has a direct effect as it works as a motivational factor in keeping children in school.          
Poverty and the lack of food, shelter and clothing keep children away from school.  Children who have never gone to school end up as child labourers. Child labour is a gross violation of human rights. Children work in hotels, in eateries, chai shops, in factories, as domestic workers, and are self employed as plastic bag, fruit sellers in markets, as shoe shine boys, run errands or carry loads for shoppers. This despite the fact that every country has introduced a minimum age for children to be admitted to employment.  We also have Labour Laws, Compulsory Education, Child Protection Reforms against commercial sexual exploitation.  No country permits forced child labour.
Children arrive in Goa at bus stands, railway stations or by any other transport. Some are smuggled into Goa. They come with either their parents when parents migrate or are victims of an agent/trafficker. These children are from poor families and they have dropped out or never set foot in a school.
The Goa Children’s Act 2003 prohibits child labour. It is a much appreciated piece of Legislation but how much it is a respected  and enforced in Goa is any one’s guess.
Child labour like stolen goods is cheap, easily available, manage able due to the child’s poverty and helplessness.  Child labour exists in Goa. While the memsab’s son is still in bed at 10 a.m. the poor girl child working as domestic help was rudely awakened by the memsab at 5 a.m. although she had gone to bed past midnight.  They are assaulted, abused and starved. They are paid a pittance and that too not for months.  We have yet to develop a culture of encouraging children to attend school.
Visit any construction site in Goa, the market, teashop and one will find a number of children employed there. The systems of checks and committees are not yet in place or is ineffective.  Except for the Apna Ghar, state run homes with trained staff are yet to be put in place and activated.   The punishment for offenders needs to be more stringent.  Only a strict enforcement of law can work as a deterrent to curb the menace of child labour.
Yes circumstances compel children to work, but work assigned to children should be as per their capacity  and after obtaining due permissions from the concerned department if the child is minor. I must add that the sometimes the hands of a little one working as a domestic help have callouses and bruises unbecoming of their age.
The National Policy for children states, “It shall be the policy of the state to provide adequate services to children, both before and after birth and through the period of growth, to ensure their full development.”
Government has to identify children employed as child labourers and admit them in Institutions. There has to be a rehabilitation programme in place for such children. We as citizens have to do our bit to have less child labourers and more children going to school.

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