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Education, an antidote to child labour

Jun 19, 2010

Prof. Shantha Sinha, Chairperson of NCPCR feels there is a need to expand the definition of Child Labour, which must be in sync with the Right to Education. A pioneer in children rights movement, she talks of her journey with NCPCR since its inception, and the fight to bring a logical conclusion to child labour in India.

“Prof. Shantha Sinha is a noted child rights activist and the Chairperson of India’s apex child rights protection body, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Earlier, her work to eradicate child labour from all its forms and anti-child labour activities culminated into heading NCPCR on its creation in 2007 and then for the second time in May 2010. She is a winner of internationally acclaimed Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2003 for community leadership and the Padma Shree of Indian Government in 1999”

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OneWorld South Asia: Prof. Sinha… First of all congratulations from OneWorld South Asia…. Could you tell us something about your work that culminated in your heading the NCPCR first on its creation in 2007, and now for the second term?

Prof. Shantha Sinha: Thank you! Before joining NCPCR in 2007, I was associated with MV Foundation which is a voluntary organisation based in Andhra Pradesh that focussed its activities on abolition of child labour in all its forms and mainstreaming child labourers into formal schools.

This included children both  girls and  boys, who were farm workers, workers on construction sites, workers in quarrying and mining workers in informal sector and household units and so on.. So, in a way while MVFoundation began working on rescue and release of bonded labourers, we soon expanded tour coverage to include all children who were out of schools and ensured that these children were no longer in the labour force and are put into regular schools to enjoy their right to education.

OWSA: Any incident that made you to come to this sector…..

Prof. Sinha: Not really, I think, in fact it was just a series of accidents that I have got into this. I can’t think of any particular incident, but what inspired me to continue is the parental response to educate their children and the community’s ownership of the programme, where they stood for children against odds. The enthusiasm of local youth who took risks as child defenders and their hope was also an inspiration to keep my interest in the program ultimately, the courage of the children to free themselves of exploitation and oppression and the radical transformation in their lives, within a short span of time I feel kept one going in this field.

OWSA: The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights is continuously fighting for the cause of child rights from last three years, how do you see the journey of the last three years of this National Commission, what were the achievements and failures?

Prof. Sinha: I think the first three years or the first term of my tenure was really in opening up several issues concerning children’s rights. It ranged from child rights, nutrition to malnutrition among children in the country. Then, we focussed towards the issues of abolition of child labour and ensuring that the children are no longer in work force.

For example, it examined trafficking of children working in cotton seeds, children who were migrating from Rajasthan to Gujarat. We held meetings with both the governments to prevent any further trafficking of child labour; we also looked at the predicament of children in areas of civil unrest-the status of services they could access and could not access, and what must government do when there is a collapse of social networking as well as delivery of services. So this is one of the areas that we had looked into quite deeply.

Further we had held consultations and issued guidelines on juvenile justice system, corporal punishment, reality shows and so on.

The other area is about children affected and inflicted with HIV and AIDS and their access to their entitlements. And of course, Right to Education because the Commission has been designated the task of monitoring the right to education under the recently enacted ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’.

While we touched on the above I think three years was too short a time to institutionalise all that we had initiated. The first year the Commission had to set up procedures, processes and even infrastructure.

I feel that the second tenure is to consolidate and take all those issues we have raised to a logical conclusion.

OWSA: When a child is victim to neglect, abuse or violence, the protective arms of the state must reach out fast. For a national commission to serve children in every corner of the country, it must have good State-level units with district-level branches. How is the NCPCR going to perform this huge task with the extremely meagre infrastructure it has today?

Prof. Sinha: I think the NCPCR would basically depend on the both-the governments and the civil society organisations. While, we don’t have the infrastructure as a commission, we have been utilising and depending a lot on government’s own personnel and administration up to the district and sub-district level. We seek reports; we conduct inquiries and ask for responses. When the response is not forthcoming or is unsatisfactory, we send our own team for further investigation.

The Commission also depends on a network of NGOs, taking their support whenever we need to go  deeper into issues.

So in  a way, yes; it is a small organisation, there are limitations in its reach because of its being small but perhaps this disadvantage was turned to an advantage, where we are looking at alternate means of utilising the existing institutional structures to reach out to children.

OWSA: Recently you stated that the scope of Child Labour Act should be expanded so in what manner according to you this should be done?

Prof. Sinha: Basically, it is in terms of the definition of the ‘Child Labour’ under the child labour act where we think that the distinction between children in occupations and processes that are prohibited and children in occupations and processes that are regulated must not be drawn. That is the distinction between occupations that are hazardous and non-hazardous. Such a distinction leaves out girls who render work for their families at the cost of education, agricultural labourers who constitute the largest numbers of child labour and many other sectors making them all hidden and invisible.

The definition of child labour must be inclusive - it must embrace every child out of school and if that is done then it is possible to ensure that children do not become part of the labour pool.

We also feel that it should be in sync with the Right to Education Act because according to the Right to Education Act every child has to be in school which means that no form of child labour can be acceptable. So these are the two issues that we have insisted upon in expanding the definition of child labour.

OWSA:And you also talked about increasing age – limit in this.

Prof. Shantha Sinha: We said that we have to go by the Juvenile Justice Act and ensure that there is a total prohibition of child labour until 18. But as a short – term measure, we said that total prohibition until age of 14 of all forms of work has to be done. For children into 15 to 18 years age group, what we have recommended that while all of them must attend schools or be part of a education program, they could be allowed to work during vacations.

OWSA: What role Government (whether state or centre), civil society and the media could play to eradicate child labour?

Prof. Sinha: Basically we should have a strong legal framework to abolish all forms of child labour that will strengthen the Right to Education Act and there must be a stronger component of enforcement of the law. The National Child Labour Programme we feel has to emphasise more on enforcement of the law and leave the running of special schools to the education department.

Media has a very huge role to play and we find that if there is some kind of public discourse or debate on the issue of children’s right or child labour it is because the media has taken it up, crusaded on these issues and brought it to the limelight. They must continue to do this and at the same time ensure that in their reporting of child labour they are sensitive to the child and not to sensationalise in a manner that the child also feels very uncomfortable.

OWSA: Recently, a major global conference on Child Labour was held at The Hague, Netherlands to mark the ten years of ILO’s 182 (Worst forms of child labour) convention against worst forms of child labour, the first event of its kind for more than 10 years. What were the outcomes of this meeting?

Prof. Sinha: The Global Conference on Child Labour in Netherlands did say that there has to be an end to child labour by 2016. Although they made a distinction between the worst form of child labour and other forms, they had also very clearly stated that, there has to be an end to all forms of child labour and linked it to issue of access to education for all children. I feel that linking the issue of child labour to education is very – very significant.

India is not a signatory to ILO convention 182 and I hope that Government of India considers it and becomes a part of the global campaign against child labour.

OWSA: This year’s theme for International Day against Child Labour was “Go for the goal, end child labour” and aimed to promote awareness and action to tackle child labour, could you elaborate on it?

Prof. Sinha: We had been a part of the occasion to commemorate the World Day against Child Labour and we collaborated with UNICEF, ILO and the Ministries of HRD (Ministry of Human Resource and Development), WCD (Ministry of Women and Child Development) and Labour (Ministry of Labour).

What we think is that a strong voice from the corporate sector condemning child labour needs to emerge,and we are happy to note that all the important federations came together on that day; FICCI, CII, ASSOCHAM, NASSCOM, SustainAbility and PHD Chambers of Commerce pledging their support to abolish child labour.

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