Published: Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live, August 8, 2005

By George Cheriyan

IN INDIA, ‘child domestic work’ is commonly practiced. Domestic work is conventionally regarded as a ‘safe’ form of employment. Child Domestic Workers (CDWs), as the term implies, are children working within the homes. That means children working for wage in cash or kind, outside their families in domestic chores and not for commercial purposes. This refers to situations where children are engaged to perform domestic tasks in the home of a third party or employer. They are within the households of employers and thus are invisible to public scrutiny. In addition, they do not exist as a group and are difficult to reach and to count.

Domestic work belongs to informal labour market, is un-registered and does not show up in the employment statistics. The ‘invisibility’ of child domestic workers also derives from the fact that the majority are girls. In many value systems, girls’ and women’s work is still economically disregarded. In some societies, where using children as domestic workers is not recognised as ‘child labour’ but as a normal feature of society.

National Situation and Legal Framework
India employs the largest number of working children in the world. A survey states that every third household in India has a working child. About 17 percent of domestic workers in India are under 15 years of age and majority of them are girls. Though the problem is so serious, in many cities in India, there is no official data.

The United Nations has recognised domestic work as a contemporary form of slavery. As defined in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182), 1999, the child domestic work constitutes a worst form of child labour. Government of India (GoI) has not ratified this convention yet. The Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 1986 prohibits employment of children below the age of 14 years in factories, mines and hazardous employments and regulate the working conditions of children in other employments. But unfortunately, child domestic workers are not covered under this Act.

Situation in Rajasthan
Large number of children is employed in the Gem and Carpet Industry in Rajasthan. In Gem industry, the children are generally put to work for cutting, polishing and shaping the stones. The grinding work is best done by children. About 30 percent of the workers are less than 14 years of age and amongst them girls are in a majority. Female children are treated even worse than the male children. Children work up to 10 to 14 hours a day, but the practice is not checked. Large number of children works in the wooden loom manufacturing rugs, too. In this trade in Rajasthan the percentage of girls are about 90. But no concern for the welfare of the children working in these industries is shown.

But with regard to the CDW, no official survey is conducted or data is available in Rajasthan.

The exploitation of child domestic workers remains hidden from wider society and there is both a lack of legal safeguards to protect them and reluctance on the part of the authorities to intervene in an area that is regarded as private because it occurs in the home. Considering the seriousness, GoI need to take urgent action to add child domestic labour to the list of prohibited (hazardous) activities under the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986.

A government regulation already exists that bans government employees from employing child domestic labourers. This implies that the Government already recognises child domestic labour as a hazardous occupation

Government should also take steps to ensure that children who are affected by such a change in the law are not harmed by it. India need to immediately ratify ILO Convention 182.