Agenda item 6 (a) iii & iv : Bonded labor and debt bondage – Child Labor (India) (Sr. Edith Gonsalves)

28 June - 2 July 2004
GenevaThank-you, Mr. Chairman.
I am sister Edith Gonsalves from India working in Karnataka state and I speak on behalf of Franciscans International.

Mundgod taluk is a part of North Kannada district in Karnataka. It is largely a forest area. People who reside here belong to the poorest and discriminated scheduled caste, scheduled tribals and backward classes. They are vulnerable and exploited. Some farmers may own a small piece of encroached forest land, but the majority of them are denied land legal ownership, have no access to irrigation facilities, and suffer from the lack of opportunities to improve their economical and social status.

Particularly, children are deprived of their basic rights to education, health and care. As a result of migration, unemployment, limitedness of agriculture resources and indebtedness, families are prevented to send their children to school.

Mr. Chairman, Article 24 of the Indian Constitution clearly affirms: "No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment" and Article 39 directs State policy such "that the health and strength of workers and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuited to their age or strength". However, scheduled caste, scheduled tribals and backward classes children are frequently pushed into child labour because of their families’ poverty. Families need money to survive and children are a source of additional income. Families also are obliged to take loans from land lords at a very high interest rate, and as they are rarely able to pay back, children become victims of bonded labour.

We welcome the government’s decision to provide free textbooks, clothes and midday meals for children in primary schools as well as hostels for the S.T,S.C,B.C. and poor children. Nevertheless, once the cycle of poverty is set, then the need for child labour comes up at every generation. Also, this same act "prohibits the employment of children who have not completed their 14th year in specified hazardous occupations and processes”. High school facilities are available only in towns which are 20-25 Km. away from the villages causing a high drop out among children after 7th. Implementation of the right to education, including the appointment of additional teachers, because after 1st to 4th std. schools are managed by two teachers, is clearly an immediate need.

Though we positively value that the government has established income generating programs on subsidy basis, often scheduled caste, tribals, and backward classes are not able to take advantage of them due to the bankers’ unrealistic request for proper documents such as the land ownership papers. It also happens that these people are also treated harshly whenever they try to get this aid or demand to pay back the loan which their fathers have taken years back.

  1. To undertake adequate steps to register legal ownership of land to scheduled
    caste, tribals, and backward classes.

  2. To make more accessible irrigation facilities so that people can improve
    their economical status and avoid migrating from state to state.

  3. To create opportunities to start income generating programs and to facilitate
    access to market for scheduled caste, tribals, and backward classes products
    as a concrete way to eradicate child labour and favour human development.

  4. To provide adequate infrastructure for higher education in the villages in
    order to grant children regular access to schools.

  5. To establish child labour schools in collaboration with NGOs in order to
    bring back the drop outs so that they can fully enjoy their right to education.

  6. To provide job oriented skills and job opportunities namely to youth and
    women of ST,SC,BC.

Thank-you, Mr. Chairman.

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UN Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
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UN Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery