“Bonded labour, child labour-Manual scavenging in India is far from being eradicated”

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News: Government has recently said in Lok Sabha that it has achieved the target of abolishing manual scavenging. 

What are the issues with these claims? 

Bonded labour: There are large number of manual scavengers who are even employed as bonded labourers in the states like Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tripura and Bihar, UP. 

Child Labour: Manual scavenging is one of the largest employers of children in India just like the agricultural sector. However, the point of concern here is that 97 percent of all these children belong to scheduled castes, engaged in direct scavenging; cleaning railway track, septic tank cleaning. 

This is very dangerous as sanitation workers below 16 are also twice more susceptible to be forced to work from time to time as manual scavengers. 

Covid pandemic impact: Since the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic struck construction of dry latrines has been very rampant specially in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. 

These new constructions, being out of surveillance radar, become the hotbed for illegal practices like Child labour and forced labour.  

What corrective steps need to be taken 

1) Categorization-Government needs to distinguish between “manual scavenging (which is a caste-based practice of people cleaning human excreta by hand) and the practice of cleaning sewers and septic tanks. So that proper rehabilitation measures can be provided to them. 

2) Proper Implementation of existing laws and schemes –Even after Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation act PEMSR Act, 2013 there are more than 1.4 million dry latrines in India. 

More than 1.5 million manual scavengers are still not identified under it. In case any casualty, their families will not even get proper compensation. 

To solve this government may use identified manual scavenger to recognise other unidentified manual scavengers living in their settlement areas. 

Over 40 per cent of the manual scavengers have not received any form of one-time cash assistance (OTCA) under Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS). 

3) New initiatives –Government needs to see how the problem of manual scavengers working forcefully as bonded labour can be tackled through new labour code. 

Read- NHRC recommends measures against manual scavenging 

Source– This post is based on the article “Bonded labour, child labour-Manual scavenging in India is far from being eradicated” published in Down to earth on 14th Dec 2021. 

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