The Bane and Evil of Child Labor

The Bane and Evil of Child Labor

In the concluding decades of the 19th century, Charles Dickens wrote a path breaking and incisive novel that illustrated and highlighted the abysmal and bleak conditions of children born in poverty. Titled, “ Oliver Twist”, the novel built around and dwelt on the theme of child labor under depressing conditions. The main character, Oliver Twist, born orphan in a work house, is sold to an undertaker and who then falls into the company of criminals. After many twists and turns, the innocent Oliver Twist is redeemed from a crime of criminality and poverty rather serendipitously. Fast forward a couple of centuries and in a different context, permutation and combination, there is an echo of Dickensian conditions amongst and in the children belonging to and born in deprived sections of society. While conditions are not as bleak and depressing as in Dickensian England but nonetheless, the tenor is Dickensian. A whole host of children born into poor families work as child laborers in Kashmir. Paid meager wages and working under rather obnoxious conditions, the child laborers of Kashmir are denied their life chances and a dignified life. The reasons for this phenomenon are structural and economic: these young buds of Kashmir are born into poor families and the burden of survival and supporting their (usually) large families falls on their shoulders. In this day and age, child labor and the conditions they operate in almost amounts to a scandal but alas, on account of unscrupulous operators who ruthlessly exploit the condition of these young children, lax and poor definition of what constitutes child labor coupled by lax implementation by administrations , the phenomenon of child laborers continued unabated. In a way, child labor is also a sad reflection on society because it is accepted and not looked askance at. It has been found that most often, child labor is more prominent in the handicrafts industry. Given the nature of this evil and the consequences it has on young children’s lives and even their families, how can this noxious trend be nipped in the bud? The onus falls on all stakeholders and a joint effort is called for. Definitional clarity, stringent enforcement of standards and stigmatizing the phenomenon would constitute a good starting point. These could be followed by strict penalties, monetary and social for the perpetrators of this evil. Say, for instance, those in the industry who employ child labor must be named and shamed, and the sale of their products tied to disavowing use of child labor- internationally, if need be. Last but not the least, young children from poor and deprived sections of society must be accorded life chances through support for schooling and education and choice(s) to determine their lives, in accordance with their wishes. Child labor is evil and it must be stemmed and stopped with vigor lest the burden of depriving children of a life fall on us, our consciences, and the Hereafter!

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