10/06/2011, 00.00
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Church’s mission, help India’s 45 million child labourers

by Nirmala Carvalho
Even though it is illegal, child labour plagues India, which has the highest number of working children under the age of 14. For Card Oswald Gracias, head of the Bishops’ Conference, education is the only weapon against child exploitation. However, the cost of education as well as substandard or no schools favour child labour. The Catholic Church plays a crucial role with 60 per cent of its schools providing free education in the country’s rural areas.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India is the country with the highest level of child labour in the world. According to the Census 2001, there were 12.7 million economically active children, but other Indian and international sources speak of 45 million, this despite the fact that such a practice is illegal. In fact, Article 24 of the Constitution says that no child below the age of 14 years is to be employed in any factory, mine or any hazardous employment. Article 39 requires the States to direct their policy towards ensuring that the tender age of children is not abused. For Card Oswald Gracias, head of the Indian Bishops’ Conference, “each child should grow up in a safe family environment and deserves a childhood that is free from exploitation and abuse.”

For the archbishop of Mumbai, education is the only weapon against child labour. For this reason, the Right to Education Act (RCE), which imposes compulsory schooling to children aged 6 to 14, plays a “crucial role since children who do not attend school are always engaged in some form of work or other”.

For centuries, “the educational mission of the Catholic Church has been to promote equal opportunities for the children of Dalits, Tribals, migrants and farm workers,” he explained. “Every child deserves a better tomorrow.”

Although Catholics represent 2 per cent of the Indian population, the Church provides one fifth of the country’s health care. “We have taken on a leading role in full human development. More than 60 per cent of our schools are in rural areas with special attention for poor and marginalised pupils who cannot afford an education. This ways we can give them an education for free.”

“The Church’s social mission includes educational and economic programmes for marginalised and underprivileged children,” the prelate explained.

Poverty, which is often given as the cause of child labour, is not the main factor. “Substandard schools or the lack of schools, along with high costs for parents, prevent children from working.”

“The Catholic Church of India continues to serve our country and works towards nation-building by eradicating child labour through its educational mission. With education we can reach our main goal, which is to transform society.”
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