Child labour: Who should be blamed ?
Source: The Sangai Express / Ng Liklaileima

Imphal, September 29: "I wish I could study.

I would like to play with my friends", said a 12 year old boy who is now working in a fast food outlet.

Sanathoi (name changed) studied up to class IV before coming to Imphal to work in a restaurant two years back.

His parents pulled out Sanathoi from the restaurant only to be pushed in to a fast food outlet.

The boy is working in the fast food joint for the last seven months.

Sanathoi belongs to a fishing family who settled near Loktak lake, located about 40 kms from here.

Sanathoi's journey to Imphal began when some people came in search of children who can be employed in different odd jobs at Imphal.

Sanathoi's parents have also shifted to Imphal and are now living in rented rooms from this month.

End of childhood : Sanathoi

Sanathoi's father is earning the family's daily square meals by pulling rickshaw.

Always smiling and active, Sanathoi never fails to please customers with his friendly talks.

Notwithstanding his sweet nature and hard work, he was found wearing an extremely worn out shirt with the right sleeve torn.

With the fast food opening at 6.30 am and closing at 8 pm, his working hours stretch for 13 hours every day without any break.

In addition to serving customers, Sanathoi also sweeps and mops the fast food joint every day.

Moreover, it is his duty to arrange and rearrange tables and chairs every morning and every night.

It is also his duty to wash dishes, plates and other utensils.

When the boy was asked if he would like to study, he said "I wish I could study and play with my friends.

Now after quitting study, I find it difficult to read even Manipuri texts".

My grandfather's last wish was to educate me.

He used to say I could learn very quickly.

My teachers also said the same thing", Sanathoi reminisced.

Sanathoi's grandfather and great grandfathers were fishermen and farmers .

But with the construction of Ithai Barrage, the water level of Loktak rose submerging eight sangams of paddy field belonging to Sanathoi's family.

Despite the huge blow suffered by the family, there has been no compensation from the Government.

With the paddy fields gone, fishing became the only source of livelihood of the family.

When Sanathoi was reading at class IV in a Government school, his grandfather fell ill.

Then tragedy struck the family.

Sanathoi's grandfather, grandmother, uncle and aunt expired one after another.

With the little savings spent on their futile treatment, Sanathoi's father could no longer afford the luxury of education in a Government school.

He wanted his son to earn whatever little amount he could instead.

At present, Sanathoi is earning Rs 700 per month.

Out of this, he gives Rs 500 to her mother while the remaining Rs 200 is deposited in a bank under the guidance of the fast food's proprietor.

Unable to meet the family's basic needs by fishing, Sanathoi's father gave up the family profession and joined as a worker in building constructions.

But as he was working in village he did not get his wage in time.

At last he decided to shift to Imphal.

At present he is struggling for the survival of his family by pulling rickshaw, conveyed Sanathoi's father.

Just as the case of Sanathoi's family testified, the number of people of seeking other means of livelihood has been raising.

These people who used to live by fishing earlier were robbed off their source of livelihood by the construction of Ithai Barrage which resulted in submergence of a large area adjoining the Loktak lake.

The Barrage also resulted in loss of several hectares of paddy fields and reduction in fish catch directly hitting those farmers and fishing families.

On the other hand, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act clearly lays down that no child below 14 years should be employed in household works, hotels, workshops or as labourers.

It also mentioned that any one found violating Act may be fined up to Rs 20,000 or imprisoned for one year.

The National Child Labour Project plans to remove child labours working in hazardous work places and provide them education in special schools.

But to the misfortune of the likes of Sanathoi, there is no sign of implementing the project in Manipur in the near future.

Child Welfare Committee, Imphal West chairperson Annie Mangshatabam while noting the presence of child labour in the State, said that the CWC was able to rescue and rehabilitate 10 girls working as domestic helpers.

As of now there is no facility to rehabiliate boys in the existing children homes, she said.

She also drew attention of the authority concerned to enforce the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act in letter and spirit in order to save poor children from the jaws of child labour.