Despite the Indian government recently banning domestic work till the age of 18 years, it persists in Chennai, like in many other parts of India. The majority of child domestic workers are girls - with few of them being residents and the majority being non-residents. The resident domestic workers come from another province and speak a different language from the local province. The non-resident domestic workers go to work and return home - with roughly half of them going to school and another half not going to school.
Arunodhaya, an NGO [non-governmental organisation] which works with child domestic workers, raises awareness amongst children from the employers' houses through holding camps with children in schools from middle and upper class areas and with residents in upper class resident complexes (where they get permission). But the majority of such complexes are inaccessible. Child domestic workers who are seen in such complexes are encouraged by Arunodhaya to leave the job, but some disappear from the area and are sent by the employer to some other destination. Child help lines in government offices run by NGOs are under pressure due to heavy workloads and have not been able to address the issue effectively.
It is in this context that a meeting was held by Arunodhaya with experts on what best could be done. Some of the suggestions from the participants in this meeting are as follows:
- Use neighbourhood newspapers, mass text messages, and video clips (to be telecast before films in theater) to advertise that it is a crime to employ domestic workers who are 18 years or below and, also, to disseminate information on the child help line.
- Continue raising awareness amongst schools which upper class and middle class students attend, as well as raise awareness amongst schools attended by children from economically poor families.
- Raise awareness amongst women and men who attend Rotary clubs and other clubs and amongst those who go for walks in parks and beaches that it is a crime to employ child domestic workers.
- Conduct surveys to find out how many non-resident child domestic workers work in a locality.
- Use mobile phones to capture evidence of resident domestic workers (the existence of whom the government downplays), as well as ask postmen/post women, courier delivery persons, shopkeepers, etc., about the houses that employ resident domestic workers.
- Speak to parents of non-resident workers to stop sending their children for domestic work and put the children back to school (if they are out of school). Also, help the parents access their economic entitlements from government.
- Start an NGO-run help line for child domestic workers only, which is backed by lawyers, shelters, and counsellors.
- Use the data from surveillance to extrapolate how many child domestic workers are there in the city.
- Evolve a city level campaign to eliminate/reduce the number of child domestic workers.&
By Ranjani.K.Murthy, with Virgil Samy, Arunodhaya
Image credit: K.K. Mustafah