06/11/2008, 00.00
INDIA

Education and learning against child exploitation, says Lenin Raghuvanshi

by Nirmala Carvalho
On World Day against Child Labour, the Indian activist calls for better schooling for everyone as the only solution to the problem. Some 55 million children live in slave-like conditions, especially among the lowest castes of society.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – “The only feasible path to solve the problem of child labour is to guarantee children a better level of education,” said Lenin Raghuvanshi, director of the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), on the eve of “World Day against Child Labour” which is scheduled for tomorrow, 12 June.

In an interview with AsiaNews, the Indian activists and 2007 Gwangju Prize for human rights laureate said that “more than 55 million children are working in India,” mostly “from Dalit, Tribals and other backward castes in India” and “all out of school,” which is “cause for great concern.”

In spite of its booming economy, “India is still very much a patriarchal and caste-based society with gender discrimination.  The destructive effects of gender discrimination, patriarchal oppression and the semi-feudal society so prevalent in 21st century India are manifest in our 55 million children, employed at times in subhuman conditions.”

Many of these children are under the age of five and put their lives at risk for a miserly salary. Similarly, “a large fraction of these child labourers are working as slaves, bonded to their “jobs”, Lenin Raghuvanshi explained, with no means of escape or freedom, often stuck in their “job” until they repay their parents’ loans.

These children do a variety of things: silversmithing, tea farming, stone quarrying, cigarette making, fireworks, fishing, embroidery, and much more. An untold number is also forced to serve as domestics, shop boys, prostitutes, and involved in child trafficking. Many even end up mutilated and forced to beg.

Child labour is closely related to poverty and the lack of a proper education, especially when parents cannot first maintain their children. The situation is more complicated for girls, who live in a shadowy world, taking care of their younger siblings and helping their mothers in house chores rather than going to school.

“Education,” insisted the Indian activist, “is a fundamental right of the child, and the government is preparing a reform that would make education free until the age of 14 in accordance with Article 21A of the Indian Constitution.”

For him “the entire education policy should be geared towards providing children with quality education without discrimination. Instead caste, gender and corporal punishment are still responsible for an early dropout rate, which forces children into the child labour market.”

In Raghuvanshi’s opinion, the “Scheduled Castes and Tribes Act should be improved to prevent atrocities and discrimination against backward classes and provide more resources.” But is needed above all is “a cultural change that eliminates the tragedy of child labour at its roots”.

In 2004 the Indian activist “adopted” three villages and a suburb in a trial project called “Jan Mitra Gaon” or “people-friendly village” that included the reopening of primary schools, the end of forced labour, making education for girls compulsory and the adoption of non-traditional education practices.

In vast areas of the Indian countryside primary education is non-existent, but the PVCHR was able to open educational facilities for children in 45 villages.

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