By Haneen Farid
CHILD labour in Kashmir is pervasive particularly in the handicraft industry, brick kilns, automobile workshops, and among domestic labour as well as vendors. Being made to work in these tedious and sometimes hazardous occupations, this practice for children is nothing short of an epidemic.
In technical terms, any employment which is undertaken by a child under the age of fourteen years on financial terms, constitutes child labour.
Regardless, the fact that several around us remain constrained in this form of exploitation is certainly a matter of concern. It is essential to examine the conditions that they may be subject to and the factors that push them to seek employment at such an early age.
To understand this phenomenon in its entirety, we may consider the example of a common sight in Kashmir: minors working in street stalls and roadside restaurants. Here, they are exposed to harsh climatic conditions, being forced to face the scorching heat in summers and heavy rains in monsoon. On top of everything, they often do not even have the suitable clothing or nutrition to suitably adapt to such a work environment.
Yet, this state of affairs can be seen extending far beyond this one segment; another industry which is equally- if not more infamous for exploiting minors, is the traditional carpet-weaving industry of Kashmir.
These workplaces in India are poorly crafted, lack appropriate lighting, have unsuited furniture, poor ventilation, and a lack of heating and cooling arrangement with respect to the relevant season. Here, several children suffer from a range of illnesses caused by the nature of their work including numerous eye problems, joint and bodily aches, and respiratory issues, among others.
Nevertheless, one thing to keep in mind about the carpet industry is that it is home-based; this is how it becomes convenient for families to employ their own children in this trade. Parents wish for their children to learn the skill of carpet weaving due to its market benefits, and make them work at an early age to help them master the skill in good time. Not only this, the establishment of looms in homes then acts as a tool in boosting labour participation of children in their wider community.
Now, for some, it may seem odd to suppose that parents in today’s day-and-age are making their children toil away in wage labour. Because of the various white-collar occupations that are being created, one could perhaps attain a relatively well-paying and dignified job with a proper education. Hence, we must ask ourselves: what causes parents to push their children into employment?
Broadly, scholars regard child labour as a result of poverty, unemployment, overpopulation, illiteracy, and low income of parents. A 2017 study provides another interesting insight into this; Aasif Hussain Nengroo and Gulam Mohammad Bhat found that if the head of a house is educated, the probability of them making their child work is lower than if otherwise.
This was inferred to mean that a literate head understands the significance of education for their child and is less likely to deprive them of education. In other words, low literacy levels among parents enables the employment of their children in the labour force, as they do not perceive the importance of education.
In reality, an education does not act as a guarantee for decent employment, which is why parents drop the notion of a white collar job and make their children work in odd jobs with low educational requirements. The evidence for this lies in the ongoing crisis of the educated unemployed in Kashmir, which only encourages the dispatch of minors into the workforce.
However, even if parents feel that obtaining an education is substantial for their child, they may lack the resources to send them to school. And to counter this, we have seen some headway recently with the J&K government instructing private schools functioning on state land to provide free of cost education to children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. With this move, we can expect a reservation of 25% in these schools, ultimately promoting greater accessibility to quality education for economically disadvantaged children who would otherwise be unable to attain this.
In any case, the longstanding problem with the employment of children is simply that at an age when a child is reasonably expected to go to school, play with their peers, and learn the multiplication tables or the periodic table, they are stripped of this innocence and forced to become an adult. And it is precisely because of this that the youth of Kashmir is grappling to achieve their true potential.
Hence, it is to be hoped that with greater infrastructural development and a widespread change in attitudes, perhaps these children who have been trapped in factories and workshops for ages can someday be free.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is a student at King’s College London and is currently working as an intern with Kashmir Observer
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