The Bold Voice of J&K

Unlearn a popular myth

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Dear Editor,
If we are against child labour and want to observe the World Day Against Child Labour on June 12, then we should unlearn the myth that poverty is to be alleviated first and then only the problem of child labour can be solved.
This myth gives moral support to child labour and makes us unsure about how to react to someone who says that he is doing a great favour to a child’s family by employing her/him because otherwise the child would have starved to death but now, the child is having a square meal every day, and some monthly remuneration as well.
An incident happened during my college days when my common sense could not agree with this false idea. But I could not find a counter logic to come out of it.
It was a day when I, along with my college friends, visited an eatery. I found many child workers had been doing the job of waiters, which made me uncomfortable. I asked the owner why he employed so many child workers. Pat came his reply in the form of a question, “Then who’ll give these poor children bread? Will you?”
This made me more uncomfortable. But I told my friends, “I don’t like this argument. It is like giving moral support to nipping a child’s potentialities in the bud. But simply I don’t know the answer.”
That somewhat cleared our conscience, and we had our lunch promptly served by a pair of small hands of a child waiter. I asked him his name, and he softly said, “Bilu”, without shifting his focus from the tray full of steaming hot dishes that he had been carrying with utmost care to unload them from one table to another.
After giving Bilu a tip, and cleaning by a toothpick every possible residue of guilt that might cause a bad taste in the mouth, we headed for a movie.
Then one day, I read in a newspaper, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s comments on it. He said, “Poverty does not breed child labour, but it is the child labour that perpetuates poverty.”
He again reiterated that child labour perpetuated poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and population growth.
“How can it be possible?” I asked myself. But I was super excited because of the possibility of having an answer that I was looking for. I had a profound respect for him who had been struggling all his life to stop children being exploited as labour instead of attending school.
So, I started thinking about what would have been the outcome had the owner of the eatery failed to employ child workers. Then I realised that he would not have any other option in that case but to employ adult workers (one of them might be Bilu’s unemployed adult elder brother). Also, he would have to pay more for those adult workers. So, his engaging Bilu and others was nothing but to extract more profit!
Moreover, if Bilu happened to become “unemployed”, his parents might not let him stay idle at home rather they would, in all probability, send him to a school to fend for his midday meal!
I jumped from my seat and said to myself, “I made a complete fool of myself, having believed in this popular false idea!”
Kailash Satyarthi has broken a long-standing myth that gives child labour less importance than poverty. The truth is – child labour is one of the reasons for poverty and unemployment. As a matter of fact, every child’s entry into the job market actually closes the job opportunity of an adult.
Sujit De

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