Education for all to stop child labour, Indian bishops say
by Nirmala Carvalho
The chairman of the Commission on Labour of the Bishops' Conference and its former secretary general tell AsiaNews that implementing the law would be meaningless unless the poor are not educated and the complicity between those charged with child protection and those who exploit them is not uncovered.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The ban on child labour, which goes into effect today in India, "will help build a more just society", but "won't solve the real problem, that of children's education, which is the only path for their fulfillment in the world," Mgr Joshua Mar Ignathios, auxiliary bishop of Trivandrum and chairman of the Commission on Labour of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told AsiaNews.

Under the new law, children under the age of 14 will not be allowed to work, but for the prelate "only education will give children a real opportunity to realise their potential. Only this will create opportunities for them to get out of poverty, become independent and lead a life of dignity."

"This," he said, "is the real goal to achieve: develop every child's potential to the maximum without forcing them to work or keeping them in ignorance."

According to fr. Xavier Pinto, a former Executive Secretary to the Commission, the law "is a great step forward. It was made possible by different organisations; not only from India but from the whole of South Asia".

However, for him implementing the law "remains complex, especially because of complicities that sometime even involve political organisations".

The priest told AsiaNews that "although banning child labour is a great sign of maturity, the little ones will always be exploited so long as the government does not improve the education system by making it accessible to the poor and the lower castes."

The problem, father Pinto added, "is getting worse. There are more and more children employed as domestic workers. I am sceptical that the law will be really implemented as long as we don't break the code of silence that exists between those who should protect children and those who exploit them."

He suggested "that non governmental organisations and all those groups devoted to child protection should play a role in investigating whenever children are denied their right to an education. This will guarantee transparency and a real implementation of the ban."

Rita Panicker, director of an NGO called 'Butteflies', agrees. In her opinion it is ridiculous to claim victory just because a new law has been approved.

"As long as there are no plans to rehabilitate children forced to work by extreme poverty it is ridiculous to think that a law by itself will eliminate this type of evil," the activist said.

For John Dayal, chairman of the All India Catholic Union, "child labour is the only social ill in India that comes close to the tragedy of female feticides. The abolition of child labour is good news, but it must said that it is still condoned in many quarters of Indian society, especially in rural areas."

Dayal stressed to AsiaNews that "in addition to the children forced to work in the fields or plants, we must not forget the horrible sex trade in the big cities. Although the government approved the law, its implementation is still a mirage".