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- Published 8.11.07
That children of uneducated parents are likely to remain illiterate is a self-evident truth. It is one of those lessons that India promised to unlearn sixty years ago when it took upon itself the responsibility to compulsorily educate its children, free them from bondage and give them equal opportunities. The last by consciously putting in place a policy of positive discrimination. It is unfortunate that the nation has to remind itself once again that the fortunes of the parents have a direct bearing on the child, and that illiteracy is intrinsically tied to the scourge of child labour that India has so singularly failed to eliminate. A recent study into these vital linkages shows that sizeable sections of the population are handing down illiteracy over generations because of the State’s consistent inability to ensure for them a better livelihood, and that the damning effect of child labour is not restricted to a lifetime. That too becomes part of the inheritance of the next generation because despite the lip-service to child welfare, the State has not found a way to liberate children from the stranglehold of a social system that makes them vulnerable to exploitation by their own families, and thereby to guarantee them education and chances of a better life.
It is not that the State has not tried. Employing child labour is now a punishable offence, domestic labour has been recognized as being exploitative for children. There have even been attempts by the labour department to rescue labouring children and send them to school with the promise of a stipend and free meal. But children do not work as entities separate from their families, and penury often makes child labour a compulsion rather than a choice. It might seem like a chicken and egg problem, but without addressing the wider issues of poverty, deprivation, social relations as also the careful weighing of the policy of reservation (the surveyed population is mostly tribal), there is no getting around the problem of either illiteracy or child labour.