On a rainy night, hiding behind a pushcart food stall parked in
front of a dizzyingly lit mall, Raju is busy at work. This timid 10-
year-old works 12-hour days serving customers and scrubbing
mountains of utensils with tiny hands that appear callused by
After a full day, he often pockets less than a dollar. If there's
food left over, he gets a meal. If not, he goes home on an empty
Concerned about the future of children like Raju, India Tuesday
begins implementing a country-wide ban on children below 14 working
as domestic help or in the hospitality sector. And punishment for
those who choose to defy it is stringent: imprisonment for up to two
years and a fine as high as $430.
Children in India are already banned from working in factories,
mines, and other perilous jobs. India's Child Labor Act, first
passed in 1986, will now carry two more in a list of 57 professions
deemed "hazardous" for children.
Child rights activists in India say it's an important step in the
battle to stop child labor. But some worry that the government is
still not doing enough to provide alternative options for families
that depend on income from their children. And many are skeptical
about how effective enforcement of the ban will be.
"It is important to remember that the problem won't disappear by
just introducing a ban," says Shireen Miller, head of policy at the
India branch of the US-based Save the Children organization.
"Legislation is a start," she says pointing out that previous
legislation hasn't been stringently enforced.
"Now there's a clear signal that [no one] can get away with
employing and exploiting children as workers," says Shantha Sinha,
an anti-child labor activist who in 2003 won the prestigious Ramon
Magsaysay Award. Ms. Sinha recalls how all 34 cases of domestic
child labor that she took up last year - most of them of children
brutally beaten by their employers - couldn't stand up in court. All
of the accused wriggled out of blame, she says, as employing
children as domestic help wasn't then prohibited by law. She hopes
this ban will reverse such tendencies.
India has the largest number of child laborers on the planet. And
studies by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) reveal shockingly
high levels of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse among children
working as domestic helpers.
According to the New Delhi-based, National Sample Survey
Organisation, nearly 16.4 million Indian children aged 5-14 years
are engaged in economic activities and domestic or non-remunerative
work. The World Bank puts that figure at 44 million. …