Published October 10, 2006
NEW DELHI (AP) - A ban on child labor took effect yesterday, but at roadside food stalls across New Delhi, many of the boys and girls who serve glasses of piping hot tea, wash dishes, mop floors and take out trash were not celebrating.
The children of India's tens of millions of poor families are expected to work, and in many cases they are the sole breadwinners.
"As it is, I barely make enough to survive," said 12-year-old Dinesh Kumar, who has been doing odd jobs since coming to New Delhi three years ago from a village in eastern India. "This will be a bad blow. I really don't know what I'll do."
The new law bans hiring children under age 14 as servants in homes or as workers in restaurants, tea shops, hotels and spas.
Despite the subcontinent's emerging economic power, child labor remains widespread in India. Conservative estimates place the number of children covered by the new law at 256,000. All told, an estimated 13 million children work in India, many of them in hazardous industries, such as glass making, where such labor has long been banned.
Officials say the new law will help take children out of the workplace and put them in school.
Critics counter that earlier bans in other industries had little impact - a visit to most carpet-weaving operations, for example, reveals dozens of child workers. And the new measure does little to address the poverty at the root of India's child labor problem.
At one roadside tea shop, the Harish Dhaba, talk among the child workers focused on the hardships of the new ban.
"As long as I can remember I've worked in a restaurant, washing dishes, cutting vegetables, throwing out the garbage," said Rama Chandran, a frail-looking 13-year-old as he cleared dishes from grimy wooden tables in the tiny, smoke-filled eatery.