The Secunderabad success story is an example of what committed officers, responsible corporates and a conscientious civil society can do to combat child labour, if they have the will
According to a report of the State Advisory Board on Child Labour, the State has over 9 lakh child labourers as of 2007. While others were still discussing and debating the various approaches to tackle the issue, a comprehensive plan took shape in the offices of the Labour Department. With a multi-prong approach that NGOs have been rooted for since the beginning, it set about with a three point agenda to sweep the streets, one at a time. The persuasion, publicity, motivation model has worked efficiently for them. Today, it’s a matter of pride for the plethora of shops and commercial establishments along the four main roads (RP Road, MG Road, SD Road and SP Road) of Secunderabad to proudly carry a badge that declares them as an establishment that does not employ child labour. A year since the “Join us in making Secunderabad a child-labour free zone,” first took off in July 2011, the campaign is on all counts, the closest thing to a success story.
There is no secret to why the initiative worked so well. One of the first steps of the labour department was to enlist the two most notable NGOs working towards the cause — MV Foundation and Divya Disha. Next, it went on to bring on board various stakeholders like employers, trade unions, the Lions club, FAPCII, UNICEF, the police and the corporates, among others. “We needed to spread awareness that child labour was a social evil, sensitise people about it Therefore the involvement of all these parties was essential. But the main idea was to involve the civil society in the fight against child labour. We made sure the people knew prosecution was the last resort,” says Naresh Kumar, the deputy commissioner of labour and the man who was instrumental in charting the road map of the Secunderabad project. All hands put together were unstoppable. They prosecuted 35 employers, and saved 40-45 children in the process.
More often that not, government schemes and corporate social responsibility activities of private companies are worlds removed from one another. However, policy makers and strategists have always maintained, that with their tremendous resources and potential, the corporate might must be harnessed to support social initiatives. The Secunderabad campaign was a case in point. Heavyweights like Corammandel, ITC, GVK, Nerolac rallied and put their weight behind the campaign, contributing to spreading awareness, generate publicity and also pledge their support. “When we were invited to be a part of the project, we were very interested. We already run a large girl child programme. So we thought that through this campaign we can address the needs of the boys who are often treated as a source of income. As an organisation, not only have we ensured that we are not employing any child labour, we are careful and conscious about who we are doing business with and who they are employing. We think this will have a ripple effect, our satellite companies will also take the same measures and so in our little ways we have contributed to the cause,” shares Arun Leslie, VP of HR at Corammandel.
Indeed. FAPCII, one of the most influential forums in the State was another party to the campaign. Having them on board meant reaching their member base of 3,300 industry members. “Child labour is nothing but future talent being diverted from being highly productive, not allowed by parents or others to learn by sending them to earn. We believe that human talent resides in the youth of the country. Good education and good health of children must be a priority so that they can grow to be instrumental in the nation-building process. It was this idea that drove us to be a part of the campaign. Members of the industry and FAPCII all agree that none of our members will engage in child labour and we will do everything to prevent it,” says Rajeshwar Rao, Spokesperson, FAPCII
Committed to the cause
The Labour Department’s initiative is an example of what committed officers, responsible corporates and a conscious civil society can do to combat child labour, if they have the will. “Irrespective of how much effort it takes, we work hard on getting medical certificates, because it is the most important thing required to prosecute employers. Similarly domestic child-labour is a tricky issue as it involves invasion of privacy. So we have taken counter measures. We make sure we have women officers present. Sometimes, we have officers wait from 5am to late in the evenings, conduct a reconnaissance on a house to see if there is any activity of child labour before we enter. We have also come up with initiatives like the mobile educational van for children of construction workers, so they can be streamlined into schools later on. What we need to do further is to establish a strong rehabilitation framework and a child tracking mechanism. As well putting the onus of prosecution on the employer and not the official. With all these things, we want to showcase Secunderabad as a model worth replicating,” says Naresh Kumar.
All those involved in the Secunderabad campaign are unanimous in that, there’s still a lot more that needs to be done. The four main roads don’t make up all of Secunderabad. But it is a start. That said, the most pivotal challenge is of invisible labour markets, most notably domestic child labour that cannot be rescued without active help from civil society.
“Domestic child labour should not be differentiated from hazardous occupations. We have had instances where we rescued a girl child who had been repeatedly bitten by her employer and suffered from a number of knife wounds. The problem is identifying these cases. There’s no way of knowing or rescuing unless they are reported. Most often, they are not,” rues Isidore Phillips, director of NGO and rescue home Divya Disha.
Whether anything like this will see the light of day in the City, let alone the State, is a matter that remains to be seen. Let’s hope for the sake of the 9,00,000 children, that it does.