A pragmatic approach to end child labor

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There are two ways to solve the plague of child labor: the first option is the legal way that basically means applying and implementing the existing rules and regulations while the second one is about a more pragmatic, realistic approach capable of understanding the complex situations and circumstances at play.

In an ideal world we should simply and plainly go for the first option: no room for compromise when basic children’s rights are broken and ignored in such blatant ways. Culprits should pay the consequences and punished as per laws of the country. Possibly the legislation should be made harsher and able to narrow down till elimination of all possible loopholes.

Honestly speaking there are not many opportunities to get the problems of child labor solved through this approach unless a strong and determined political will emerge and set the conditions for a massive campaign and awareness against child labor.

For this campaign to succeed in creating and sustaining a massive change behavior needed to end child labor, the trick would be to create real “shame” around the issue, making all those perpetuating child labor, feel “persecuted” by the strongest sense of guilt possible. Society and this means the common citizen must feel empathy around the issue and this will require a drastic change in people’s mindsets.

After all child labor is a bit like discrimination: it is well tolerated and accepted as a normal practice because it is rooted in deep social, economic and anthropological norms.

Right now unfortunately there are no conditions for such drastic and radical change. Should we resign and just wait for a generational change when a new wave of citizens, more educated and progressive but now underage, will emerge and lead, hopefully in bettering society?

What if those who are supposed to be the future leaders are actually embedded in the same social norms that make child labor something so common?

Because if you are a child of a middle or upper class family and you grow up with another child, same age as you but busy all the time working at your home, automatically, instinctively you will end up adjusting to this situation, taking for granted what actually should provoke the strongest and sternest sense of condemnation and rejection.

Let’s look at the second option, the pragmatic one. Here a proposal for a sort of “amnesty” for all the agents of child labor. All those involved in this plague, be the micros’ drivers, the restaurant owner or a household breadwinner, will have the possibility to “come out” and register the identity of the child employed by them. They will have to pay a hefty penalty to be deposited in a bank account created in the name of the exploited child. The amount of the penalty should reflect the time and hours of work given by the child plus a standardized sum as gratuity.

By making their cases of exploitation public, each of the exploiters will have to subscribe to a strict code of conduct that will regulate treatment and employment conditions of the child in the future. The standards will be based on the assumptions that a reasonable compromise can be reached between the right approach to development and a more pragmatic, economic way to look at the issue. The right to health and education must be ensured and each employer must agree to ensure the fulfillment of these basic rights coupled with a reduced and more humane workload. Nationally approved stipends or allowances will be sanctioned and strictly enforced. By signing the code of conduct, the employer will agree to become the guardian of the child and therefore will be responsible for the wellbeing of the child.

An alternative should be ensured for the child: either agreeing to continue employment under the new, revised conditions or have the right to receive an alternative care system. In case a child would opt for breaking free from his employer, his original family should be considered as the first option for integration. If the family’s situation and living conditions would not be deemed suitable, then an alternative guardianship will be sought.

Considering the psychological pressure and power dynamics at play when a child would be asked to make a choice, it will be indispensible to ensure that a special economic assistance package will be provided to the child, a sort of enhanced scholarship or conditional cash transfer that will allow the child, his family to have adequate resources for starting anew.

Also in matters of education and health, the child and his family should receive special treatment. The involvement of NGOs as partners of the initiative will be a pre-requisite. We cannot expect the State to be able to carry out alone something so innovative, new and radical without the support of civil society organizations.

This pragmatic solution, though unconventional, could provide a real chance to break down the walls of indifference surrounding child labor, offering a pathway towards a new, more serene life for thousands of children in Nepal.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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