Friday, January 30, 2015

RK Laxman: Common man ignored

R.K. Laxman died this week. Incidentally, the common man has also lost representation in the media in the last 5-10 years. If you are not a celebrity or in the urban middle class, good luck getting your issues covered in the media. How many farmer stories have we seen on TV in the last one year? How many stories are based in rural settings? Have our newspapers become glossy urban magazine covers? Speaking about issues of the poor, the marginalized is now considered activism and progress impeding socialism.

To sum it up:
Farmer commits suicide.
Adani gets loan.
R.K. Laxman dies.

Do watch P. Sainath talk about these issues in brief. I recommend watching his longer talks if you have the time.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Will legalizing child labour really save our children?

Wikipedia states: "Child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful."

I was surprised to see an article on livemint dated 24th November, 2014 titled - 'Save the children, legalize child labour' by Prashanth Perumal where he argues that legalizing child labour will be better for children. I quote: "... at least in the availability of some alternative venues of work, children could escape much deeper poverty as well as the ineffective schooling system."

If India was so bad that the alternative to child labour was prostitution, slavery or being inducted into militia, then I could understand the argument. The reality in India is that more than 95% of children are enrolled in schools. While there needs to be a lot of improvement in all aspects, a majority of them are safe and fed somewhat nutritious meals courtesy mid-day meals. Some of them even manage to learn something according to ASER reports.

The article references an article by Kailash Satyarthi, founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Kailash mentions in his argument that big reasons for child labour are parental poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, failure of development and education programs. Also, children are preferred by industries due to various unethical reasons.

Ironically, Prashanth states the same reasons as arguments for legalizing child labour. Since a lot of Indian parents are poor who need money and our schools are abysmal which don't teach anything, let's make our kids work in hazardous and exploitative environment till we make it all better. Thankfully, the policy makers don't think like that. So far.

If a legislation is passed legalizing child labour, what would be the outcomes? It will legalize the industries that already indulge in this practice. It will also give permission to all the other industries across the country, which do not employ this practice, to start this practice. Industries will consider, some might give in to the temptation, employing children in place of other employees. Where will these additional child labourers come from? I doubt they will come from higher income families. These children will come from the most vulnerable groups who are most likely to give in to this temptation. Scholars say: "... this encourages illiteracy, inhumane work and lower investment in human capital. Child labour... also leads to poor labour standards for adults, depresses the wages of adults in developing countries as well as the developed countries, and dooms the third world economies to low-skill jobs only capable of producing poor quality cheap exports. More children that work in poor countries, the fewer and worse-paid are the jobs for adults in these countries."

The education system will have lesser pressure to improve itself and cater to the challenges of working with the most vulnerable children. This will "deepen inequity in an already iniquitous structure. This happens because in reality the practical becomes a goal for the disadvantaged; whereas the privileged strive for the ideal as their goal, pushed by both internal and external forces." 

The reason we make child labour illegal, like almost all the countries in the world, is so that the child is: protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development."  That is our commitment to our children. Once we aim for this ideal commitment, we need to improve all the inter-related aspects that can make it a reality: economic growth, education system, nutrition, etc.

Rephrasing what is written here: "Such choices have cumulative, historical effects and they cannot be unwound. So, a society or nation committed to equity and democracy must decide what we want for our children and then go for it, for the whole system. It’s then that the burden of making it happen becomes clearer, and the society has to figure out how to make it happen, obliged to do whatever is required and provide whatever support is needed."