| Childhood robbed, livelihood earned: Sambhu Sheikh at work. Picture by Amit Biswas
Krishnagar/Midnapore, Aug. 2: Twelve-year-old Kalu Mondal does not read newspapers and seldom sees the television. He does not know about the Centre’s ban on child labour in households and eateries.
If he did, he wouldn’t have been happy.
For Kalu, his job as a serving boy at a tea stall in Krishnagar, 85 km from Calcutta, means helping his father run the family that includes three brothers and a sister.
Told about the ban, Kalu, whose stall faces the Nadia district magistrate’s office, became angry. “Will the babus in the government give me an alter- native' Will they give me money to feed my mother and send my brothers and sister to school'” he asked.
Nadia officials, who are carrying out a census of child labourers in the district to bring them to special schools set up for them, are yet to count Kalu, eldest among his parents’ five children, working from dawn to dusk for Rs 30 a day.
According to an approximate estimate, there are 11,000 child labourers in Nadia alone. However, this figure could be much higher. The survey is still incomplete.
Kalu’s father Kartik earns Rs 60 a day as a construction labourer.
“I will not leave my job,” Kalu said with steel in his voice that belied his age.
He is one of many. Sambhu Sheikh is of his age and works in a tea stall adjacent to Krishnagar municipality.
His father Khodai is a rickshaw-puller, who has two more sons and a daughter.
But being the eldest, Sambhu has to shoulder greater responsibility. “My father’s income is even lower than my Rs 40 a day. I have employed my younger brother in another shop. My sister goes to school and that is enough for me. If she is educated, I’ll be happy,” said the boy who managed to study up to Class IV.
He took time to realise what the ban meant. After that, he said: “If the government drives me out of my job in the town, I will go to a village and work there. I know I have to feed my mother who looks forward to my contribution.”
In Kharagpur, West Midnapore, about 130 km from Calcutta, 10-year-old Jiban works in a dhaba on National Highway 6. About a year and a half ago, his mother had brought him to the dhaba owner, Gurpreet Singh.
“His father is an alcoholic. I pay Jiban Rs 600 a month, which his mother collects,” Singh said.
However good the government’s intention in imposing the ban is, the social condition that forces children to take to working life when they should be going to school or playing around is stark.
Jiban’s father doesn’t care to know that his wife is saving his 10-year-old son’s salary to meet the expenses of daughter Putul’s marriage.
Babu Nandi runs a tea stall on the IIT Kharagpur campus. Four boys aged between 10 and 11 work there. “I at least keep the boys engaged and even pay them. If I sack them, they’ll become thieves,” Babu said.
A labour department official said there has been “no enforcement of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act”, which declared 13 occupations and 57 processes hazardous, in Bengal. “Enforcing the new amendment will not be possible because of manpower shortage. Two-thirds of the labour inspectors’ posts are now vacant,” he added.