Srinagar: In a bizarre revelation, the department of Labour and Employment, Kashmir, has said that they found not a single case of child labour in Kashmir Valley during an inspection carried out by the department during the year 2016-17.
An insider told Kashmir Reader that there were around 90 inspections carried out by the Labour department across all the districts of Jammu & Kashmir. They concluded with a zero percent incidence of child labour in the entire Valley.
This otherwise happy news has come at a time when figures of child labour are surging in Srinagar and elsewhere in Kashmir. In Srinagar’s Batamaloo that too within few hundred meters of Labour department, a good number of children could be found working in automobile workshops, tea stalls and general stores while many others are seen with putting up carts in Lal chowk and elsewhere in Kashmir.
A few of the children are also seen working as conductors in passenger buses, a risky job, in the city. When Kashmir Reader spoke to a few of these children, they cited poor financial conditions of their families as the reason for taking up work at early stage. Employers who employ children at their establishments claimed that family members of children insist them to employ their wards so that they would financially support their families. A few of the employers, however, admitted that they have to pay very less to these children compared to an adult employee. As per the 2001 census report, as many as 1, 75,000 children were working as labourers in Jammu and Kashmir.
Though there are no official figures to reveal the exact number of child labourers, however, independent research and surveys have found that the figure has been surpassed by several thousand during the past one-and-a-half decade.
The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 puts a total ban on engagement of child labour below the age of 14 years in any hazardous processor and/or occupation. The Act provides for regulation of employment of children in non-hazardous process and/or occupation.
A selected district’s research report prepared by a UK-based NGO ‘Save the Children’, in collaboration with Srinagar-based NGO ‘Better World’, in 2005 revealed that there were 22,000 child labourers in Srinagar and Budgam districts alone, many of them facing a litany of health problems.
As per the report, children working in carpet industries faced a lack of basic amenities, wage disparities on the basis of sex, absence of definite wage structure, and six-day week. “Nearly 80% of them suffer from myopia and retinal detachment due to constant eye strain. The children are also vulnerable to throat infection, joint pains and headache. More than 3,000 children working in the automobile sector in Srinagar and Budgam districts faced immediate and long-term implications, including accidents, cuts and bums, chronic bronchitis, chest pain, cough, dysphasia and bacterial endocarditic,” says the study.
Back in 1997, the state government admitted that about 24,000 child labourers were working in hazardous conditions in Kashmir valley. “Many children are thus entrapped in hazardous occupations. One more cause for increase in child labour in Kashmir is the prevailing strife in the valley,” further says the report.
State Programme Manager of ‘Save the Children’, Sharif Bhat, said they haven’t carried out any survey to ascertain the number of child labourers in the Valley because there were “some issues that hindered their intention to do so.”
“Here (in Kashmir), we have a majority of child labour cases associated with traditional handicrafts like carpet weaving, shawl making, paper machie, all done inside houses. If, somehow, we manage to enter the house, there is no guarantee that family members would cooperate with us and provide details,” Bhat said.
Though there are no current figures available, Bhat says, all students between the age group of 6 and 14 who aren’t enrolled at any educational institution, would definitely be working as child labourers.
Ujala, a society registered under the Societies Registration Act of 1860, claimed that there were 3,22,000 children in the age group of 6-14 years out of school in the year 2002 in J&K, which has gone down to 1,12,000 children in the year 2006.
Former deputy director Labour Department, Ghulam Rasool Kumar, under whose tenure last year’s survey was carried out, admitted that no case of child labour was found during the survey, and blamed the existing child labour prohibition and protection act for having loopholes.
“The reason we found not a single child labour case is that there are loopholes in the child labour act 1986. Under this act, we are supposed to take action against the employers only, not those who forced or asked the minor to work as a child labourer. Also, it is not clear about those children who work at their own will or with the consent of their parents,” Kumar said.
When asked about the independent surveys that claim to have found a huge number of child labour cases in J&K, Kumar said that the department’s survey has neither found any case nor has any outsider approached it with such cases.
He said that recently three cases of child labourers were traced, prosecution for which is pending before the magisterial court Srinagar. For children like these, he said, 11 Child Labour special schools have been established in areas like Parimpora, Foreshore Road, Kursoo, Rajbagh, Habbak and few other places in Srinagar. A good number of children are studying there who were earlier recovered from different workplaces, he said.
“These special schools were built under a Government of India scheme called National Child Labour project, with 250 teachers currently imparting education to the children. The children are also provided mid-day meals, taught cutting and tailoring work, besides being earning the Rs 150 stipend provided to each of them,” he said.
Commissioner Labour and Employment department, Abdul Rasheed, refused to comment on the issue, claiming he was not aware about the survey as he had just joined the department following the reshuffle by the government.