`We see good results'

Published : Nov 17, 2006 00:00 IST

Shahid Meezan, Director, Child Labour Division, Ministry of Labour and Employment. - V.V. KRISHNAN

Shahid Meezan, Director, Child Labour Division, Ministry of Labour and Employment. - V.V. KRISHNAN

Interview with Shahid Meezan, Director, Child Labour Division.

SHAHID MEEZAN, Director, Child Labour Division in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, spoke to Frontline on the challenge of eradicating child labour and on the initiatives taken by the Labour Ministry. Excerpts:

In the wake of the recent notification banning the employment of children under 14 as domestics and in the hospitality sector, how would you rate the efforts of the Labour Ministry and, specifically, those of your Department in dealing with child labour in occupations mentioned in the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986?

The notification is an important step in the overall strategy of eradicating child labour. We listed and emphasised these two major categories in the hazardous work segment as these occupations are fairly widespread and also visible. Most of the other occupations where we find children working are confined to certain areas. That is one reason why a countrywide campaign was needed. The minute we decided to issue the notification, we started involving State governments and asked them for their action plans for the implementation of the notification and also for the rehabilitation of the children using other government schemes as well. The State Labour Departments, as the nodal agencies, were supposed to give the action plans. They gave us their action plans for child labour in these two occupations in particular.

We generally don't rate our efforts, but wherever there is a better administration by the project societies we see good results. The proposals to run special schools are given to the State governments and after approval, given to non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In 99 per cent of the cases, NGOs are running the schools. People implement projects, so if there are officials at the district level who are enthusiastic and take it up as a priority, the schemes work well. There are individual cases of excellence and cases where the delivery has been average. In some cases, State governments have been regularly monitoring the prevalence and rehabilitation of child labour. For instance, Tamil Nadu produced an action plan for different districts for the elimination of child labour, setting up timelines and targets. As a result of this, the districts in the State have begun taking interest. State-level monitoring has to be taken up and we presume that State governments are regularly monitoring the situation.

The government had resolved to eliminate child labour in the hazardous sector by the end of the 10th Five-Year Plan. But that has not happened.

We are proposing more focussed monitoring by the States in the 11th Plan. We feel that it should be monitored at the level of the Chief Secretary. We have told all States to prepare plans with district-level targets. Hopefully, it will bear results as it has done in the case of States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and, to some extent, Karnataka. In our proposal for the 11th Plan, we plan to focus on the hazardous industries and we hope to achieve something tangible by the end of the Plan period. Given our focus and commitment, we should be able to do it. Why I say this is because there are many districts in Tamil Nadu that have come to the stage where they want to declare themselves `child-labour-free' and feel that by March 2007, or by the end of this year itself, they will be able to do so. We will, of course, evaluate them before authenticating their claim. That gives us the hope that it is possible. Some other State governments are also committing themselves. The Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra has also committed himself to making Mumbai free of child labour in hazardous occupations. And Uttar Pradesh has developed its own action plan. I am confident that within the 11th Plan period we will be able to achieve this target.

There seems to be a lot of mention of convergence right from the time of formulation of the National Child Labour Policy in the late 1980s. What is your assessment of this?

The action plans of State governments need help from Departments other than the Labour Department. There is a need to associate other Departments as well. For example, the most important Department for the rehabilitation of working children and those in the hazardous sector is Education. We have the Sarva Shiksha Abihyaan in place. But a special scheme is needed and that is why we have the National Child Labour Project. Opening a school for these children is not enough; we need to provide vocational training to the children and to target their families under various development schemes.

There seems to be this distinction between "child work" and "child labour" and sections within the government also subscribe to the view that not all "working children" constitute "child labour". Why is the government still reluctant to label all out-of-school children as child labourers?

I don't see any reason to get into the semantics of the issue. The commitment of the government is to get all children under the fold of education and Article 21 A provides for free and compulsory education for children up to 14 years.

Now we look at what is doable immediately. We have the SSA campaign, but we recognise that certain children, for whatever reasons, have difficulty in getting covered under the scheme. So even within the SSA, we need alternative schools. The target is to include all such children, who are not either in the SSA or in mainstream schools. That is why there has to be a greater convergence with the Department of Education; but then, it has to be with other Departments such as Welfare and Women and Child Development as well. It has to be a concerted effort. The families also have to be supported with supplementary income or employment, so that they are not compelled to send their children to work.

You have often stated that child labour is mainly a socio-economic problem. It has been observed that parents, despite their poverty, are keen to send their children to school but somehow the infrastructure does not seem to be there to satisfy this need.

Yes, child labour is mainly the outcome of a socio-economic situation. However, there could be other reasons as well. There are families who believe that their child can get some skills in Mumbai. There are artisan families who feel that the traditional skills have to be learnt as well. As part of our sensitisation programme, we try to tell them that skill acquisition should not be at the cost of education. As for the infrastructure present, there is a strong mechanism like the SSA. If there is a problem about the quality of education or lack of infrastructure, these issues are being looked into. The Labour Department is working in tandem with the Education Department. There has to be convergence at every level.

Do you feel that State governments have taken eradication of child labour as a challenge, because in actual terms the numbers of working children have gone up?

Many States have come out with their action plans. A few examples are Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Tripura. There is a larger awareness, especially after we started consulting States in the context of the present legislation. There is no need to tell States what to do; if there is a problem, they will take it up.

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