`It's the government's legal responsibility'

Published : Nov 17, 2006 00:00 IST

Ashok Agarwal, senior lawyer of the Delhi High Court. - ANU PUSHKARNA

Ashok Agarwal, senior lawyer of the Delhi High Court. - ANU PUSHKARNA

Interview with Ashok Agarwal, adviser, Social Jurist.

ERADICATION of child labour is not possible without strong Central intervention, believes Ashok Agarwal, senior lawyer of the Delhi High Court and founder-member of Social Jurist, a lawyers' group involved with social issues. Agarwal, the main advocate of Social Jurist, deals with cases relating to child labour and enforcement of a freeship quota and guaranteeing of 25 per cent admissions to children from the weaker sections in public schools in Delhi. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline.

As a campaigner for the right to education and child rights in general, how do you view the recent notification banning child labour in domestic work and in the hospitality sector?

It is a step in the right direction, but this is not enough. Unless child labour in all its forms is legally prohibited, it will not be possible to eradicate it completely. The Gurupadaswamy Committee Report had in 1979 underscored the presence of a huge number of children in the conduct of agricultural operations involving sharp machinery and pesticides. The situation is still the same today. Minor girls are employed in the hybrid cotton-seeds industry in Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere. Unless the government addresses the issue of employment of children in agriculture, any ban will be meaningless. The government is not at all sensitive to the issue of children. The Education Bill, which was mandated by Article 21 A of the Constitution which lays down that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children in the six to fourteen age group, has not seen the light of day. The Central government has now started asking the States to legislate the law. The Centre is shying away from its financial obligation, which is bound to arise if a Central Bill on the right to education is legislated. The State governments are already facing a resource crunch, so even if they were to legislate such a Bill, it would not work in the absence of an appropriate allocation of resources both by the Centre and by the States. If the government is serious about eradicating child labour, it should enforce the right to free and compulsory education.

As one advocating the elimination of all forms of child labour, how would you assess the government's performance on this front?

The position today is that the government is solely responsible for the growth and survival of child labour as far as the present system of schooling is concerned. Government schools, instead of attracting children, are pushing them into the labour market. There is no system in place to put rescued children in the school system. Any rehabilitation has to cover parents so that they are not compelled to send their children to work. In the case of destitute children, it is the government that has to provide the facility of residential schools so that they can develop their abilities to the fullest.

A lot of work towards rehabilitating child labourers is being done by non-governmental organisations. Also, there are a lot of parallel systems of schooling like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan. Do these systems work?

NGOs should be used more as motivators. It is the government that has to be the main service provider. It is the legal responsibility of the government to prevent child labour and ensure quality schooling for all children. All parallel systems of education are in fact child labour breeding centres. One way or the other, these schools deprive the children of equal and good opportunities for education. All out-of-school children and dropouts should be made part of the mainstream system of schooling. If these schools are allowed to function, more doubts will be cast on the intentions of the government to eradicate child labour.

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