It was heart-rending to watch media images last evening of two 10-year olds yoked to a plough and laboring in the soggy fields of Bihar. While such brutal images are neither uncommon or unfathomable in a country which has the largest number of working children (115 million) in the world, what is shocking is that it was Union Rural Development Minister's elder brother who employed these young boys. What was even more horrid was how with no self-disgust whatsoever, in fact with a tinge of pride, he justified this remorseless act. According to him since the farm area was waterlogged, neither tractors nor bulls could be used to plough the fields and hence he had no choice but to employ the children. As far as the Minister's response goes, let us not even venture into what political spin he managed to give and escape the brunt. What an irony that he is democratically elected to shape the development of our rural masses!

While on one hand, the global attention from countries, international development agencies and MNCs to the child labor has mandated stricter actions from and controls on our end, I wonder how domestic labor such as this which rarely come to light, be subverted. It took US government's notification on imported goods, made using child labor,  to finally wake us up. The concerned Ministry and Export Promotion Council decided that the five child-labor sensitive sectors - carpets, handicraft, gems & jewelery, sports goods and apparel - would be required to conduct external social audit in a transparent manner. The audits apparently would be open for examination by anyone who is interested. I'm not sure if this auditing of child labor practices would in any way go beyond papers. I wonder whether such act of banning child labor is mere treating of a symptom or this is in fact the panacea to break the vicious intergenerational cycle of poverty.

For now, I'm not sure if the concerned take any remote actions against the Minister's brother following the FIR lodged under the Child Labor Prevention Act. However, I'm quite sure that in the public mind space this is just one of those short-lived imageries that would get masked by the greener cricket field ones flashed by the media.  

Just another flash in the pan??

~ Santosh


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