Saveera Khan’s three daughters are helping her to make bangles. They are working in front of a hot furnace which melts the powder used for making natural lac bangles.
The children handle many poisonous chemicals such as crystalline silica dust and inhale noxious fumes of toxic dust.
Mantasha is the youngest and is only 7 years old, she goes to school when there isn’t too much work at home.
“Our only brother always goes to school but mostly we the girls in the family work at home. The furnance is very very hot and sometimes it burns us. Our eyes also hurt,” she said.
Her older sister, 12 year old Shazia says most of her friends also work in family industries.
“They do embroidery, cloth dyeing; gem polishing, kite and jewelry. Although many of these are dangerous for their health their parents force them to work. Children are not interested in working but their parents force them to do it. It has bad impact on our education. Our money helps our family but damages our future,” she said.
Saveera khan is the girl’s mother.
She gets irritated when I ask her why she lets her children work so close to the furnace.
“Mister, why are you worried about my children? These are my children and if they earn money for their family, why are you upset? I send them to school every day and they work in their free time, so what’s the issue? Didn’t our Prime Minister Modi use to sell tea when he was a child? Now the government is ready to relax the law…so what’s your problem?” she asked
An amendment to India’s Child Labor Prohibition Act will allow children under 14 to work in “family enterprises” like the Khan’s.
The Indian government argues that it will help impoverished families earn a living and give children an “entrepreneurial spirit”. Getting children to work will only be legal if it doesn’t interfere with their education and can’t be hazardous.
Child rights activist say the government is reversing several decades of efforts by child rights activists to get children out of work and into school.
Vijay Goel has rescued over 2000 children from hazardous works in the last two years.
“It will be extremely difficult to differentiate between hazardous and non-hazardous work. For example, a child is allowed to work in his ancestral agriculture farm which is termed as a non- hazardous work. But what happens if he gets injured by any of the agriculture equipment like axe or spade?” he said.
But the government argues they are helping children and the amendments reflect the reality of the countries workforce.
“There are various such examples and today even if you take the entertainment industry or you take any of the children program, there are a lot of children under the age of 14 who have immense talent and which needs to be applauded as well. I think they are very clear that there are hazardous jobs for children and there are non-hazardous, which are to be monitored by the parents,” said Shaina N.C the spokesperson for the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party.
But child rights activist say that it’s this monitoring that they are concerned will not take place.
Also the face of child labor in India is not ‘child actors’ it mainly affects the lowest castes, in particular Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim children.
They are often forced to work because their family has no alternative. These groups are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked into slavery.
Shanta Sinha is the former chairperson of the commission for the protection of child rights.
“This is a very sad day and very sad day for the children of our country. We thought that the amendment in the child labor act will actually end child labor but it seems that it will legalize child labor through back door by allowing children to work at home. But then this kind of help, I think is no kind of help to the family. If the children were all in school, their families would have been better off,” she said.