ASIA/INDIA - The Church keeps close watch on child labour: religious institutes and lay associations provide valid assistance

Saturday, 13 March 2004

New Delhi (Fides Service) - “The Catholic Church in India is actively involved in initiatives to prevent child labour. Many dioceses and religious institutes work to address this problem by assisting families, providing homes for street children, providing free education”. Father Babu Joseph Karakombil, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India told Fides.
“The most active Religious in this field are the Salesians - the priest tells Fides. Don Bosco oratories and professional training centres provide education and craft and job training which helps young people enter the world of work. This service is very precious. Many other religious communities are involved in this service, especially providing education: Franciscans, Divine Word Missionaries, Jesuits and many communities of Sisters and also lay Catholic associations. This is a sign of the maturity of the local Church which keeps a close watch on child labour and an active part in trying to prevent it in particular by means of the Bishops’ respective Commissions for Youth and Labour ”.
Father Babu Joseph Karakombil explained. “Child labour is generally caused by extreme poverty in which families live. Children have to work to bring income to the family and very often they have also to take care of smaller children. In rural areas children work on farms and plantations. In cities, where the cost of living is higher and wages are low, children work in factories or shops of all kinds.”. “The Pope’s message for Lent his year - he concluded - was received with enthusiasm in every diocese of India and it helped to increase awareness in the local Church that more can and must be done to protect children. We intend to join non Catholic organisations in this activity ”.
In the meantime the Indian government has strengthened its commitment to eliminating the scourge of child labour which, according to the International Labour Organisation, involves about 11 million children in India. In February the Indian government announced that in cooperation with the ILO and the European Union it has launched a 40 million dollar programme to eliminate child labour. The programme will address 80,000 children working in more than 250 production areas mainly in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The programme aims to improve the human and social abilities of the children and provide assistance for families.
Many organisations have pressed the Indian government to put more effort and more resources into fighting child labour. Recently Child Relief and You CRY association which has worked for 25 years in India to protect children, issued a statement in which it affirmed: “ 57 years after Independence more than 60 million children in India live below the poverty line. Two million die in their first year of life and less than half of India’s children aged between 6 and 14 anni attend school. We affirm every child’s right to development, instruction, health and protection”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 13/3/2004 lines 51 words 554)