SALEM: Salem district has been in the forefront of the war against child labour in Tamil Nadu.
It has a dubious distinction of employing children below 14 in both hazardous and non-hazardous industries such as silver anklet, weaving, construction, coir making, beedi rolling, brick kilns, automobile workshops, hotels and dhabas, stone quarries and in some industrial units thus forcing the government to launch an intense child labour eradication programme during 1995-1996.
To monitor and spearhead the movement against this social scourge, the Union Government, under its National Child Labour Programme, formed `SMILE’ (Society for Monitoring and Implementation of (Child) Labour Elimination) with the Collector as its chairman. Its main objective is to identify child labourers and help them join the mainstream in society by providing them quality education. According to Collector J. Chandrakumar, since 1995-1996 the war against child labour has been going on in the district without a let-up. “So far 20,432 children have been rescued of whom 11,850 have been enrolled in SMILE’s special schools,” Mr. Chandrakumar said. A total of 40 such special schools are functioning in which 2,000 rescued children are studying.
Facilities such as Rs. 5 every day for a nutritious meal and Rs. 100 every month as stipend are being given along with free bus passes and uniforms. Many of these rehabilitated child labourers have been admitted to regular schools to enable them pursue higher education. Eight children have passed Plus II this year and two girls and one boy now study in an engineering college - all proud products of SMILE schools.
SMILE in co-ordination with revenue and labour departments have so far carried out 27,630 raids in various industrial units and firms and rescued many children. Those who employed child labourers have also been brought before the law. Till today 99 cases out of total 629 have so far been cleared. The court found them guilty and fined to the tune of Rs 16.40 lakh along with a compensation amount of Rs 5.60 lakh.
“Our firm approach has yielded positive results. But still we have a long way to go to achieve the ambitious objective of total eradication of the child labour,” Mr. Chandrakumar says.