Guwahati, Oct. 26: One can find them serving food in tea stalls, repairing vehicles, burning bricks in kilns, washing clothes and sweeping floors in houses. Many of them are often beaten up by their employers and even sexually exploited.
However, there is lack of information about the number of children working in hazardous conditions in Assam and the reasons that force them to do so.
In the meantime, a comprehensive project submitted by the labour department to the government in 2011 for identifying child workers and taking up a mass awareness programme is gathering dust because of lack of funds.
The department, which enforces anti-child labour acts, had submitted the Rs 70-lakh proposal but it has not been sanctioned till date despite several reminders.
“We had sought Rs 45 lakh for a survey in nine Assam districts to identify child labourers and another Rs 25 for a mass awareness programme against child labour, trafficking and sexual abuse. But we could not go ahead because of lack of funds. We submitted the project again after the Chief Minister’s Vision for Women and Children: 2016 was launched last year but to no avail. We are often blamed for not taking proper action to tackle the problem of child labour but how can we do so without having a proper survey and awareness campaign?” a senior official in the department said. Under the proposed project, the department was planning to carry out a survey to identify child labourers in nine districts — Kamrup (metro), Nagaon, Bongaigaon, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Cachar, Jorhat, Lakhimpur and Sonitpur.
“These districts have a large number of children working in shops and business establishments, tea gardens and brick kilns. But we do not know their exact number. We are planning to make Guwahati a child labour-free city by 2016 but it is not possible without a proper survey and awareness campaign,” the official said.
The proposed project includes setting up of rescue-cum-welfare centres, a district level task force for tracking child workers, incorporation of a provision in the government service rules treating engagement of child labour by government servants as gross misconduct and stringent enforcement of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986.
Child labour has become a serious issue in Assam and Guwahati is fast becoming a centre for poor children being engaged in business establishments as well as in houses, following its growth in business activities. Nineteen child labour cases have been detected since January this year, including two incidents where two minor domestics were found dead in mysterious conditions. A policeman in the Pandu area was arrested recently for torturing a minor girl working as a maid in his house.
“People in rural Assam know about National Rural Health Mission because of the publicity and media campaign. There is a need for a similar campaign to prevent child labour and spread awareness about the legal provisions,” the official said.
He said though the department is entrusted with the task of carrying out inspection to check child labour, its district offices cannot do so properly because of lack of vehicles. “We had sought vehicles from the government to enable our inspectors to carry out raids and rescue children from hazardous conditions. But nothing has been sanctioned so far. Although it is the duty of the social welfare department, we often have to take the children for medical tests, counselling and to the shelter home for which we require vehicles.”
“Our department is often neglected and still we have to manually collect information from our district offices, as the computerisation process has not been done yet in our department. Our district offices are given a meagre Rs 5,000-7,000 per year for office maintenance, which is impossible,” the official said.