The brutal murder of the 10-year-old domestic help in Lokhandwala has once again brought into focus laws dealing with child labour. Laws on child labour must be amended and enforced with more vigour and commitment, police officers, serving and retired, say.
Former IPS officer YP Singh said the guilty in such incidents must be given exemplary punishment so that no one ever tries to punish a child like that.
"The incident demonstrates the ugly volatility of temper," Singh added. Though, primarily, the state labour department is entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the law concerning child labour, the police too have the powers to act under the law, he stressed.
So, why were charges under the child labour law not invoked against the family, which had employed two minors? Additional commissioner of police (west region) Bipin Bihari said solving the murder case was their top priority. "Action under the child labour law can be initiated at a later stage also," he said.
A crucial problem plaguing regulating child labour laws among domestic helps was the reluctance of employers to come forward with details of their maids.
Bihari said the police had appealed to residents to get their servants and maids registered with the police, but only a few had come forward. "Sometimes, employees are reluctant, and on other occasions domestic workers do not want to go to police stations for registration."
According to child rights activist from NGO Balprafulta, Santosh Shinde, cases of abuse against children are very common. "We receive 20 to 22 cases every month. The abuse varies from physical to mental, from sexual to economic."
Shinde puts the unofficial figure of child domestic workers in Mumbai at 1,60,000. "But nobody checked the facts as most cases get dropped even before they reach the court," he explained. "In many cases which get reported, the employers call the parents immediately and hand over the child to them. The parents then go to the police and tell them they have no complaint. That is why there is no conviction," said another activist.
The only solution to this problem, according to Shinde, was to make it compulsory for housing societies to register child domestic helps.