They know what schoollife is. They still carry schoolbags, pack lunch boxes and polish shoes. Not their own, but those belonging to the children of their employers. For the many child domestic labourers in the city, carefree schoollife is a distant memory.
A survey conducted by Save the Children, UK, Right Track and Loreto Day School, Sealdah, has revealed that 46 per cent of child domestic workers (CDW) in Calcutta are primary school dropouts. “Since most of these CDWs are girls, their parents either thought education is unnecessary for them or they couldn’t afford it. We are trying to urge employers to resume these children’s education. They can be sent to government and municipal schools, if not to the same schools that their wards are in,” said Manabendra Ray of Save the Children.
Through a Powerpoint presentation on the survey at the city-level Consultation on Child Domestic Work held at Rotary Sadan on Friday, Paramita Chakraborty and Madhusree Ghosh, students of Loreto Sealdah, pointed out that 84 per cent of CDWs work more than eight hours a day. Besides being denied proper food and rest, these children also fall prey to mental and physical abuse.
Kunal Dey, a member of Juvenile Justice Board, rued that in not one case the employer been penalised for causing physical and/or mental trauma to the child domestic worker. This despite the law recognising it as a cognisable offence, calling for a jail term of three to six months and a fine.
Most of the child domestic workers are victims of organised trafficking rackets that operate in some districts in West Bengal. “There exists three or four-tier systems. Many placement agencies which claim to provide nurses or ayahs are found to be part of these rackets. The good-looking girls are the more ill-fated as the agencies sell them to dance bars and brothels. The rest become CDWs in Calcutta,” said Ray.
But even urban families are not safe for these children, with 68.3 per cent of respondents admitting to being physically abused. Around 32.2 per cent were sexually abused, while 86 per cent have faced some form of emotional torture.
Recently, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre, states and Union territories on a PIL by a group of NGOs seeking a ban on all forms of child labour. The petition pointed out that the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, which disallows the employment of children only in hazardous jobs, in a way legalises other forms of child labour.
“An Article in our Constitution guarantees the right to education to children between six and 14 years. Child labour in any form contradicts this right,” said Biplab Mukherjee of Campaign Against Child Labour.