Swami Agnivesh criticises UN stand on Indian policies against child labour

The Times of India, New Delhi October 24,1998

New Delhi: The genteel atmosphere at the United Nations launch of its position paper on child labour on Friday was ruffled when social activist Swami Agnivesh chose to stray from the trodden path. Instead of the predictable effusive remarks, Swami Agnivesh, in his inimitable gentle manner, pulled up the UN for not being sufficiently critical of the Indians in eliminating child labour in the country.

The common position paper, formally launched by UN resident co-ordinator Brenda Gael Mc-Sweeney, at a function here, highlighted that India accounted for the largest number of child workers in the world and that the UN organisations would help agencies, individuals and communities engaged in eliminating child labour in the country and coordinate their work.

Speaking on the occasion, Swami Agnivesh, asked, "Why is the UN position paper so soft on the government," adding that the government has failed miserably in taking any effective measures in tackling the menace of child labour in the country. Swami Agnivesh, who has been working for years in the area of bonded and child labour, said he accepted that the UN agencies have their limitations but they could pose awkward questions to the government.

He said, the UN bodies could ask the government as to why it has not earmarked sufficient resources to deal with this problem or why there are not enough schools to accommodate the out-of school children. Hitting out at the government, he said it lacked commitment on this issue and even the necessary laws spoke of prohibiting child labour and not eliminating it.

"What is stopping the government from amending the law?" he asked and castigated the PM and the HRD minister for not giving any firm commitment on making elementary education a fundamental right. The government, he maintained had also failed to effectively implement the Convention on Child Rights (CRC), stating that the authorities invariably submitted false reports in this regard to the UN which accepted these unquestioningly.