NGOs start activity centres for child domestic workers
M Ramya | TNN
Chennai: After the case of 10-year-old Rameshwari Jadhav being beaten and scalded by her employer — a small-time TV actor in Mumbai — came to light, the labour ministry is trying to curb the practice of employing children as domestic workers. But not many people are interested in children like 15-year-old R Ragini, an orphan living with her brother and sister, who has been working as a maid in a house in Rajapillai Thottam in T Nagar for 12 years.
Ragini dropped out of school when she was in Class III, and can’t even write her own name. If she had been discovered a year ago, legal action could have been taken against her employer for hiring a child in hazardous labour, but now the Child Labour Prevention and Regulation Act (CLPRA) cannot help her since she is over 14 years.
An ongoing survey of child domestic workers in the city by two NGOs, Save The Children and Arunodaya Centre for Street and Working Children, shows that there are 35 children being employed in households in Kodambakkam, T Nagar and Choolaimedu, and 22 children in T P Chattram, Anna Nagar and Aminjikarai, many of them between 14 and 18 years.
Programme manager of Save The Children in the state Sandhya Krishnan says, “Though child labour has been included as a hazardous form of labour under the CLPRA, it states that only children under 14 cannot be employed in hazardous forms of labour, leaving those aged between 14 and 18 years (who are also children under Article 32 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children) without legal protection.”
Many of the children in this age group grow up to become poorly paid unskilled domestic workers. Extra-curricular or recreational activities or learning vocational skills is out of the question. To change this, the NGOs are setting up six contact and activity centres across the city. There are three centres in the city — two in Kodambakkam and one in T P Chattram.
It gives children the opportunity to play games and learn vocational skills such as tailoring and beauty techniques. Where such centres are not possible, the organisations are talking to resident welfare associations in apartments to allow them to use parking areas to give the children vocational training.
E Mala, who handles the centre in Rangarajapuram in Kodambakkam which caters to 23 children between 15 and 17 years, says, “Children can express themselves, increase their self-esteem and have fun. These are things that they never seem to have time for.”
Mala, who started working as a domestic help when she was 10, is now studying second year BA History in Quaid-E-Millet College for Women and wants to become a social worker.
Through these centres the NGOs hope to have many success stories like that of Firoza in Kolkata, who successfully completed a six-month beautician course. She has since left her employer and returned to her family in Joynagar, from where she commutes five days a week to Kolkata where she is a practising beautician and to continue her training.
Firoza is Ragini’s idol. “I just learnt how to apply mascara. Next week I’m going to learn how to shape eyebrows. Soon I’ll be working just like Firoza akka,” she says.