Child labor is “the employment of children at regular and sustained labor” and is “considered exploitative by many international organizations … illegal in many countries ... was utilized to varying extents through most of history, but entered public dispute with the advent of universal schooling… with the emergence of the concepts of workers' and children's rights.” (Wikipedia.org) According to same source, child labor “accounts for 22% of the workforce in Asia, 32% in Africa, 17% in Latin America, 1% in US, Canada, Europe and other wealthy nations.”
In Bhutan, on one hand there is an international pressure to protect our innocent children from exploitation and exploitive labor, and on the other there is the harsh reality of stinking poverty, to which Bhutan’s child labor finds its source. In a cruel world, survival far outweighs exploitation. There is no doubt that these parents love their children and better still want to send them to school. Why don’t we understand that? But out of choice-less choice, they let their children work. But in Bhutan, it is rare to find small children working in factories or deep mines. In Bhutan, baby-sitter and housemaids are the most common. This is where poor villagers send their young sons and daughters (mostly girls) to urban areas. If parents are unable to send their children to school and with the starving family, the only option is involve their children in some gainful activity.
Just being a party to some UN Conventions and being complacent about the core issue is a useless attempt. This is because right now we are just saying we should stop it because it is reflected so in this or that section of an international law. Well, we can totally stop child labor in Bhutan if the law is enforced strictly, but what do we do next? Who is going to feed them? Who is going to rightfully educate them? It leaves us with more complex questions. We need to have certain mechanism, whereby we can help and support those poverty stricken parents find their ways. Right now we seem to be only making vague remarks - in Mr. Dorji Wangchuk's word "lip service".
This is where initiative the likes of Dagana Dzongkhag education office seem to hit the nail on the right spot or at least somewhere near. There is the promise (100% school enrollment by 2013) and the practicality (through some kidu fund) of acting on the promise. It sounds achievable too – less movement of the jaws and more actions. Whether we can turn everything right in just a little less than three and half years, something we have not been able in decades, is for us to judge, but it definitely should send right message to rest of the 19 Dzongkhag Education officials and local leaders in 205 gewogs.