Despite a law against this heartless practice, and the presence of enforcement agencies to check it, child labour is an affliction Jammu and Kashmir suffers from; without many pangs of conscience, particularly among its civil society. The state Labour Department's figures for the past six years make for grim reading about the government's inability and unwillingness to root this evil out, and determine and address its causes. During this period more than 12,000 cases were brought to the notice of the concerned department but only 75 were taken up for prosecution.
Experts attribute poor enforcement to lack of coordination among the government departments concerned, which allows offenders to escape punishment. Even law-makers have been found to employ children in their homes as domestic help. Child labour is prohibited in the state under the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act which prescribes a jail term of up to two years and a maximum fine of Rs 20,000 for anyone found employing children below the age of fourteen.
A survey conducted by an NGO in 2009 had found over 3 lakh under-14 children working in Jammu and Kashmir. Nearly 34 per cent of them had received schooling only up to the fifth grade, and 66 per cent up to the eighth grade. According to the survey, 9.2 per cent of this vast workforce of tender hands was between 5 to 10 years old, while 90 per cent fell in the age group of 11 to 14. Further, 80 per cent of it came from families with 6 to 10 members and 15 percent from those with 11 to 15 members. In 61 per cent of the cases, parents of child labourers were found illiterate. The problem, however, cannot be addressed by laws alone.
Even the law enforcing agencies cannot fight it out on their own. The society has to wake up and fight. By encouraging or promoting child labour in one form or the other, the society is denying these children their childhood. The number of children being abused in the name of employment is too big to be ignored. The government must take appropriate measures to arrest the trend now.