The ban on child labour through a new law and incorporation of stingant action against those who contravene the same, though belated is a welcome move and will go a long way in curbing the employment of child labour in hotels, tea stalls, household, offices and in semi-hazardous activities. But how to implement the Act will be the biggest challenge of having one of the highest child labourers in the state.
The child labour problem in this backward tribal-dominated district has assumed alarming dimensions with the government failing to rehabilate the child labour working in hazardous and semi-hazardous conditions. The National Child Labour Project (NCLP) which is being implemented in the district from 1996 has failed to make much impact on controlling the menace. According to survey of 1996 about 37,957 children’s in 10 blocks, one municipality and one NAC areas of this district are engaged as labourers. The NCLP runs 40 schools in 10 blocks, one Municipality and NAC to educate children who can not afford to go for studies due to financial constrains. In many cases, the poor parents have no alternatives but to take back their children from the school to support family.
The schools in the district functioning under the project with each having an intake capacity of a fifth children. Only 2000 students can only be accommodated in every academic session. In the NCLP schools, the children are provided food during their study. Keeping in view the poor background of the children, the administration has introduced a monthly deposit scheme for the rehabilitated children. The fixed deposit in the name of the students will be spent for them after completion of the courses.
Investigation revealed that there are around 30,000 children toiling in the different establishment. Most of the child labourers of interior pocket work in collecting minor forest produce, cow gazing, and work as non-agriculture labour Nabarangpur block tops the list with more than 5000 child labourers where as Dabugam block has the least number of child labourers, i.e.3000.
On the young children employed in the business establishments, there are many eateries which employ children in many hotels in Nabarangpur and Umerkote one can find children belonging to tribal communities being employed for works. The owners of tea stalls hotels admit to employing juveniles for menial works as it is not easy for them to get well bodied adult persons to clean the hotels and utensil. The children work for a meager Rs.100-200 a month, besides meals. And for this amount they do all the cleaning work and all the waste materials are dumped by them, said one of the hotel owner who is quite unaware of the new act.
Similarly at many hotels, tea stalls, garages, stone quarries, and in construction sites in Umerkote, Papadahandi, Kosagumuda, Raighar, Tentulikhunti, Nandahandi, Chandahandi, Jharigam, one can find children aged below ten engaged in semi-hazardous works. Most of these child labourers are from tribal communities and they were sent to the work by their parents for additional income to support the family. The tribal parents generally reluctant to send their children to school. Taking advantage of the poverty prevalent among tribals, many labour contractors are enticing the parents to send their children out side the state for attractive jobs. The parents will find that they are duped only after the children report the terrible conditions in which they are faced to work. The exploitation of children in society and even by government servants continues.
Most of the tribals of the district till today unaware of the benefits provided by the NCLP due to lack of publicity by the officials concern and district administration. Irregularities in attendance of teachers in the Schools running under the project, allegations are flying thick and fast that bungling of funds by the teachers with unholy nexus of Project Staffs also alleged by the parents. Universalizating education notwithstanding Sarba Sikhsya Abhiyan, including National Child Labour Project(NCLP) has failed to benefit the real child labourers who were reeling in acute poverty in this tribal -dominated district. Tribal leaders demanded to take proper step for rehabilitation of child labourers who become jobless, and provide more facilities under different programmes by opening more number of schools in the district, and the administration should keep vigilant eye on the functioning of the project.