To The Horror Of Rights Activists, India Legalizes Child Labor

India children working on the side of a road in West Bengal
India children working on the side of a road in West Bengal
Jasvinder Sehgal

JAIPUR — Saveera Khan's three daughters are helping her to make bangles, which requires working in front of a hot furnace that melts the powder used for making natural lac bangles.

The children handle many poisonous chemicals such as crystalline silica dust, and inhale noxious fumes of toxic dust. At just 7 years old, Mantasha is the youngest and she goes to school only when there isn't too much work to be done at home.

"Our only brother always goes to school, but mostly we girls in the family work at home," she says. "The furnace is very very hot and sometimes it burns us. Our eyes also hurt."

Her older sister, 12-year-old Shazia, says most of her friends also work in family businesses. "They do embroidery, cloth dyeing, gem polishing, kite and jewelry," she says. "Although many of these are dangerous for their health, their parents force them to work even if children are not interested. It has a bad impact on our education. Our money helps our family but damages our future."

The girl’s mother becomes irritated when I ask her why she lets her children work so close to the furnace.

"Mister, why are you worried about my children?" Khan asks. "These are my children and if they earn money for their family, why are you upset? I send them to school every day and they work in their free time, so what's the issue? Didn't our Prime Minister Modi use to sell tea when he was a child? Now the government is ready to relax the law, so what's your problem?"

A new amendment to India's Child Labor Prohibition Act will allow children under 14 to work in "family enterprises" like the Khan's. The Indian government argues that it will help impoverished families earn a living and give children an "entrepreneurial spirit." Making children work will only be legal if it doesn't interfere with their education and isn't hazardous.

Two steps back

Child rights activists say the government's action is regressive, reversing several decades of efforts by child welfare activists to keep children out of the work force and in school.

Vijay Goel has rescued more than 2,000 children from hazardous work environments in the last two years alone. "It will be extremely difficult to differentiate between hazardous and non-hazardous work," he says. "For example, a child is allowed to work in his ancestral agriculture farm, which is termed as non-hazardous work. But what happens if he gets injured by agricultural equipment such as axes or spades?"

But the government argues it is helping children and that the amendment reflects the reality of the country's workforce.

"Even if you take the entertainment industry, there is a lot of children under the age of 14 who have immense talent, which needs to be applauded," says Shaina NC, an India fashion designer and the spokesperson for the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party. "I think they are very clear that there are hazardous jobs for children and there are non-hazardous, which are to be monitored by the parents."

But child rights activist say that it's this monitoring that they are concerned won't happen.

Moreover, the face of child labor in India has nothing to do with child actors. It mainly affects the lowest castes, in particular Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim children. They are often forced to work because their families have no alternative. These groups are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked into slavery.

Shantha Sinha, the former chair of the Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, is ashamed of the amendment. "This is a very sad day for the children of our country," she says. "We thought that the amendment in the Child Labor Act would actually end child labor, but it seems that it will legalize child labor through the back door by allowing children to work at home. This kind of help, I think, is no kind of help to the family. If the children were all in school, their families would have been better off."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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