Post Mortem

Rethinking domestic child labour

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 4/12/2019 12:45:37 PM IST

 Domestic child labour is defined as the labour carried out by children domestically who are under relevant minimum age in hazardous conditions or in slavery-like situations.

Domestic child labour is,to a certain extent,culturally accepted in many parts of North East India. There are many cases in which a child belonging to other tribes and sub tribes or villages, usually from economically backward conditions, works as a ‘helper’ in other families. Child labour is an unorganized form of labour and there are different types found inNagaland as well. Majority of it is home-based work, where a child from a poor family, is separated from their family and is compelled to work in another family or household which is economically more stable as domestic help to do the household chores of the family. Roughly out of hundred people, only ten people sees domestic child labour as a risk for children. The other 90 are oblivious to the issue. Rather the poor sees this as a privilege and the rich as a favour to the poor. People are led to believe that they are extending help the poor by engaging their children in domestic work and providing them with educational opportunities in return for their labour. 
Their common daily work includes waking up in the early hours of the morning before anyone else in the family, fetching water manually for household use from surrounding ponds or other water supply sources in case of the absence of a properly installed water pipeline system, which is usually the case, making fire for the fireplace, which is usually done in the traditional method and hence requires physical exertion,heating water in pots and preparing breakfast for the family. Then they help the mother or the female members of the household in cooking for the entire family and then get themselves ready for school. These children go to government schools where the teachers are irregular and give little importance to the students. Once they are done with school for the day,they are expected to prepare dinner, clean the house and clean up after everyone before bedtime. A child who is involved in domestic labour said “The only time I get for studying is at night when all my chores are done”. 
These children are at risk because despite being underage, they carry the work burden of an adult. Children engaged in child labour activities are robbed of their childhood. Because of the long hours of work, these children are often denied the right to formal education, social interaction, personal development and emotional support from their families. Children who grow up away from their parents or families are emotionally alienated, a situation that can easily lead to emotional immaturity. These children are prone to verbal, mental, emotional, sexual and physical abuse. This leaves a lasting impact on the child’s life and it cripples them in more aspects than one and it becomes a difficult struggle to grow out of it. 
Their self-image also gets distorted due to the kind of labour and activities they are subjected to. Children aged 5-16 are at the peak of their childhood, the stages of learning being prime during these years. However, the working children are disadvantaged hugely in this area. 
Instead of experiencing childhood and growing up as normal children should, they take up the role of adults in their so-called workplace. They inherently feel the responsibility of taking care of the children in the families they live with, and even carry the burden of the family or household on their shoulders. Their work, to a certain extent, cripple them from healthy child- to- adult development. 
The social status of the working child is also affected. Their status in the society is ‘maid’ or ‘helper’ which are derogatory terms. They are marginalized in school, social circle and in the society. Being called a maid or knowing that the society sees them as belonging to that socio-economic status and hence, in a way, removed from immediate society affects their psychological and mental development. Their contributions are usually not acknowledged. This poses as a risk for the children as this could have a negative impact on their mental health and cause post-traumatic stress in their later years as adults as they deal with mental and emotional scarring.  The impact of domestic child labour varies from person to person but in general this labour robs away the natural and rightful joys of childhood and the intimacy and love needed from parents and family.
Children are God’s gift and the bible affirms this in Genesis when God pronounces blessings upon Adam and Eve to multiply and fill the earth. Procreation of humankind is God’s plan in creation. It is important to know that children are created in the image of God for they came from Adam and Eve who were created in God’s image. This image of God should not be destroyed or abused through violence, denial of their rights to childhood or any other form of mistreatment. Parenthood and nurturing, shaping, building and sustenance are all possible through children. Jesus in the New Testament uses the example of children to teach an important lesson about the kingdom of God. He points out that to enter the kingdom of God, one must become like a child by placing the child at the centre.
We as a people created in the image of God need to identify this evil in our society and fight against it. Children are precious and valued by God regardless of who they are or where they come from. The need for ‘loving without conditions’ is at hand. This means that we can open up our homesto children from poorer families and give education without any conditions. Are we not capable of loving and treating them as or own and not seeing them as extra pairs of hands for our own purpose?We can make life better for them. We can bring change in their lives. It all starts with you and I. We can make the difference. May God help us to do what is right and acceptable before Him.
RK Gaibamlung, BD II, Union Biblical Seminary

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