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Huligamma and Big Mac

By Nandana Reddy

Does trade liberalisation affect investments in children's health and education? There is growing evidence that children from families denied livelihood security, and deprived of the most basic social benefits, are forced into child labour and a precarious existence in urban centres

Amid the cacophony of blaring horns, the smog emitted from the exhaust of hundreds of vehicles, and a hoarding screaming the advantages of the new wave of globalisation, little Huligamma dodges through traffic at a major intersection in one of India’s teeming cities.

Nothing much has changed for Huligamma. She has worked for as long as she can remember. Now aged 11, she dare not dream and, on the rare occasion she does, her dream is not an extravagant one: just to become a teacher some day. But even this dream seems to be becoming more and more elusive.

Actually, things have changed. When she first came to the city from her village and began rag-picking, she used to sort through the piles of garbage in mute companionship with the cows. She would collect paper, tins, magazines and cloth while the cow munched on banana leaves and scraps of food. She sold these to wholesalers who, in turn, recycled the waste material and made a few rupees from the trade. Now much of what Huligamma finds in the garbage heaps are Styrofoam cups, bubble wrap, plastic containers and discarded mouses, keyboards and CDs. And these have very little resale value.

In August 2005 there was an interesting battle in Chennai, India, between Coca-Cola and the photographer Sharad Haksar. The latter had been using a billboard for three years to focus on social issues affecting India through photographs. The one displayed in August 2005 showed a line of empty water pots waiting to be filled at a hand pump, with a Coca-Cola logo in the background. It was a commentary on the water shortages that the country is experiencing. Coca-Cola India sent a copyright infringement notice to Haksar. He responded by saying that he had not infringed any law and was only exercising his freedom of expression.

Activists have been claiming that water shortages due to depleting groundwater usually accompany the arrival of a Coca-Cola or Pepsi bottling factory in the area. These companies have been vociferously denying the allegations. Now, a year later, many institutions, even states, have banned colas, claiming that the level of pesticides found in the soft drinks are far above permissible limits.

Huligamma extracts a half-eaten Big Mac from the dustbin outside McDonald’s. She munches on it as she gazes at a hoarding advertising ‘power lunches’ for busy executives at a five-star hotel. A steaming plate of food stares back at her as she chews on the dry bread. So different from the occasional packet of curd rice or chapatti and subzi (vegetable) that she used to find. This dry, tasteless meat sandwiched between white flavourless bread is difficult to swallow and will barely satisfy her hunger.

Although economists promoting liberalisation and ‘free trade’ suggest that trade improves living standards, this is a controversial proposition that is widely debated in development circles. Experience has shown that trade does not necessarily promote economic growth. Even if trade boosts the economy, the benefits either do not trickle down to most citizens or are offset by the attendant costs. These potential costs could include environmental degradation, increased exposure to disease, decreased public spending due to lower ability to tax capital, increased exposure to international financial crises, increased demand for low-skilled labour, including child labour, and subsequent reduced returns to human capital acquisition.

Back in her village, Huligamma’s 13-year-old sister spends 12 hours a day spraying fertiliser on crops. She works as a daily wage labourer on the farms of a multinational agro corporation that has a chain of stores selling vegetables, fruit and other agricultural products. She is paid Rs 15 a day, from which the contractor takes a cut.

Her brother, aged 14, works as an unskilled labourer in the nearby iron ore mines, digging for ore and loading trucks. It is backbreaking work, in extreme conditions. The temperature is 45 degrees Celsius in the summer, there is no water in this drought-prone region, and the ore dust causes chronic respiratory ailments. He is paid Rs 30 a day and he too has to give his contractor a cut. But together, brother and sister are able to feed themselves and their grandmother. They even manage to put a little money aside for days when there is no work.

It is often asked whether a country’s openness to the international economy affects investments in children’s health and education. This question goes to the core of the debate on globalisation. Child health and education are important ends in their own right (Sen 1999). Health and education are two important means of achieving long-term economic sustainability. Experience has shown that trade is unlikely to be a long-lasting propeller of overall development, especially if it only spurs economic growth but substantially harms health and education through reduced public spending and the removal of safety nets. Trade also influences the degree to which governments are willing and able to fund public health and education. More generally, in open economies, governments have a hard time taxing capital; in fact, they may end up largely subsidising capital, at the expense of investments in children. 

To draw from economist Adam Smith, policies such as structural adjustment have contributed to “the greatest peacetime transfer of wealth from the periphery to the imperial centre in history”. And this has been achieved without much media or public attention.

The prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for developing nations, at the behest of rich and powerful countries, is that the former should open up to allow more imports as well as export more of their commodities. This is precisely what contributes to poverty and dependency.

Mainstream economists and politicians have long been criticised for concentrating on economic growth in ways that ignore the human and environmental costs of such growth. Perhaps one of the harshest ironies is how food and farm products flow from areas of hunger and need to areas where money and demand is concentrated. Farm workers -- women especially -- are among the hungriest people in the world.

Although Huligamma’s family was not considered poor, they were small farmers; education beyond the 4th standard was never an option for the young girl and her siblings. Living in a drought-prone area, at the age of 10 Huligamma had to walk six kilometres every day to collect two pots of drinking water for the family. Her brother and sister would take the goats in search of grazing land. As pastures are scarce in this district, it would be several days before they returned, only to pack another bundle of dry rotis and set out again.  Meanwhile, their mother and father worked in the fields.

After four years of continuous drought, the family could no longer service its debt and her father committed suicide. Huligamma left the village with her mother and two younger siblings and came to the city to find a way to survive. They left behind her old grandmother, elder sister and brother to manage the little land they had left.

UNICEF’s 1999 report on the ‘Progress of Nations’ suggested that debt was killing children. It stated that as countries were diverting resources away from social provisions, to repay debt, those most affected were the poor, especially women and children. UNICEF’s 2000 report, ‘State of the World’s Children’, claimed that in 1960 the income gap between the richest one-fifth of the world’s population and the poorest was 30:1. By 1997 it had become 74:1.

‘Trade, not aid’ is regarded as an important statement of the kind of development promoted by some nations. But in the context of international obligations, it is also criticised by many as an excuse for rich countries to cut back on levels of aid that have been agreed upon and pledged at the United Nations.

A coalition of Indian organisations, spearheaded by the Delhi-based HAQ-Centre for Child Rights, is campaigning for trade justice -- not free trade -- with the rules weighted in favour of poor people and the environment. They are “calling on world leaders to change the rules that govern international trade so that poor countries have the freedom to help and support their vulnerable farmers and industries”.

The HAQ report claims that although the direct impact of free trade on children may not be apparent, the experiences of other countries with the processes of globalisation and liberalisation definitely indicate that there is a strong case for close examination of the possible linkages.

Huligamma remembers how, some years ago, her father, along with other farmers, had dumped their tomatoes on the highway because the selling price had dropped to 90 paise per kilogram. Her father was a proud man who did not believe in taking handouts from anybody. He would save money before each festival to buy clothes and rations. What a joy that was! To dress up and go with the family to the sante (weekly market) and choose the fresh fruit and vegetables that would go into making the festive meal and sweets. And to buy flowers and bangles and new clothes. What different days those were!

Huligamma also remembers how her father was told about the new economy. ‘Buy now and pay later’. He finally fell into the trap and took a loan, not realising that agriculture was not a sustainable occupation any more. She thinks of the new TVs and cars and scooters that are displayed outside factories offering fantastic schemes. A car for a down payment of just Rs 999! She wonders how sustainable these city jobs are.

In its report ‘State of the World’s Children 2006’, titled ‘The Excluded and Invisible’, UNICEF makes a passionate plea for nation states to focus on “creating a world fit for children”. According to the report, such a world “may seem impossibly far away, but achieving it is as simple as this: We must do everything in our power to keep our commitments to children. These commitments are clear and unambiguous. What is now required is the understanding that a commitment is a pledge with both moral and practical obligations. In a moral sense, a commitment signifies a relationship of duty. In practical terms, a commitment binds those making it to a course of action”.

It appears that the UNICEF report is trying to desperately counter the effects of corporate globalisation and, without stating as much, the authors are making an emotional plea, playing on the sense of humanity and values that they assume nations still retain at some level. 

The report says: “At the extremes, children can become invisible, in effect disappearing from view within their families, communities and societies and to governments, donors, civil society, the media, the private sector and even other children. For millions of children, the main cause of their invisibility is violations of their right to protection.”

For example, child labour is banned in India at least in certain sectors of work deemed particularly hazardous to them, and children are periodically rounded up and removed from their work situations. However, the alternatives offered to them are neither viable nor sustainable. The most detrimental aspect of this “rescue” strategy is that it pays little attention to rehabilitation. Children working in banned sectors are afforded no protection whatsoever and are, in fact, themselves considered infringers of the law. This criminalisation of child labour has forced working children into more and more hidden forms of work that render them even more invisible than they were before.

In November 2005, The Daily Pioneer in New Delhi (in an article titled ‘500 Child Labourers Rescued in Raids’) reported a drive against child labour in which over 500 minors working in inhuman conditions at 50 embroidery units in east Delhi were rescued in simultaneous raids on several establishments. The next day, the same paper published an investigative report (‘Lure of UN Funds Drives NGO to ‘Rescue’ Kids’) on the same issue. This is how the report described the intervention: “Children rescued from a cage and incarcerated in a pigeonhole.” According to the report, the “477 children who were rescued… amid much publicity… (are) now faced (with) an even more uncertain future. Investigations by The Pioneer revealed that what prompted the raids was utilisation of funds under a UN-funded scheme rather than concern for the rehabilitation of the children. Neither the government nor the NGO that carried out the operation has an answer about their future. The children would be sent back to the same homes they had fled to escape hunger and disease.

“It was revealed that the raids were carried out to facilitate utilisation of funds received by the labour department from the International Labour Organisation, a UN body, for carrying out programmes to eradicate child labour. Sources in the Delhi government said that such raids are planned with a lot of media hype, and positive media reports are submitted to the ILO to embellish the application for the release of more funds.”

A Delhi government official was quoted as saying: “There is no provision for the rehabilitation of children rescued under the Child Labour Act. The NGOs and the Delhi government’s claim that they would help rehabilitate the children is hogwash. The labour department has coordinated with the NGO only to the extent of rescuing and deporting these children from Delhi.”

The cooption of NGOs to do government work or act as extensions is an integral part of the liberalisation process. The fate of the few independent NGOs that have managed to retain a sense of political activism despite the growing influence of neo-liberal policies is well summed up by Dom Helda Camara, one of the South American apostles of ‘liberation theology’:“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

The UNICEF report says: “Statistical analyses of key MDG (Millennium Development Goals) indicators related to child health and education show a widening gap between children growing up in countries with the lowest level of development… and their peers in the rest of the developing world. These factors not only jeopardise these children’s chances of benefiting from the Millennium agenda, they also increase the risk that they will miss out on their childhood and face continued exclusion in adulthood.”

According to the latest statistics in the UNICEF report ‘State of the World’s Children 2006’, enrolment figures for primary schools in India are 111% for boys and 104% for girls (over 100%, thanks to the peculiar mode of statistical calculation adopted by the government). However, secondary school enrolment figures drop dramatically to 58% for boys and 47% for girls. Among children who enrol in secondary school, attendance is only 45% and 36% for boys and girls respectively. This indicates that more than half of India’s young people between the ages of 14 and 18 are not in school and, presumably, are engaged in some form of economic activity. Under-educated, unskilled and, therefore, underpaid, these young people will join the ranks of frustrated, under-employed, excluded adult population.

There has been a lowering of standards in education, basic health, nutrition and shelter in India as a result of reduced public expenditure in the social sector. The policies, programmes and development initiatives framed by the Government of India, based on the dictates of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), increasingly deprive communities and families of resources on which they have traditionally depended. Loss of access to and control over land and forest resources, fuel, fodder and water, and privatisation of social services such as education, healthcare and basic needs such as water supply are clearly taking their toll on millions of Indian children.

The symptoms of this negative fallout are visible. Children from families denied any livelihood security, and deprived of the most basic social benefits, are forced to migrate to urban centres in the hope of finding a means of survival. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of street children -- both girls and boys -- in cities and towns; more and more children are being trafficked within and across borders; and there are growing numbers of children engaged in part- or full-time labour.

Children form practically half the world’s population. In many poor countries, children constitute more than 50% of the population. Therefore, what happens to children affects all of humanity.

While Huligamma picks rags and occasionally begs, her younger siblings -- six-year-old brother and eight-year-old sister -- jump through hoops and perform somersaults to amuse bored multinational company executives as they wait in their air-conditioned cars at the traffic lights. Their tiny bodies have been trained at an early age to do these tricks; when they are older they will have to graduate to rag-picking and begging, like Huligamma.

Their mother works as a daily labourer when she can get work on a construction site. She is pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is. She has been violated so often that she has lost track. This is a ‘service’ she performs for the beat policemen, in return for their ignoring her presence on the street. She bears the torment with gritted teeth. 

The recent ILO global report, ‘An end to Child Labour -- Within Reach’, released on May 4, 2006, makes tall claims and sweeping statements. Since there is no one who would not welcome an end to the tragic reality and consequences of child labour, one hopes that there is some truth in its content. However, many of the claims remain on the boundary between rhetoric and wishful thinking.

According to the report, child labour has reduced globally by 11%. Statistics in this area have always been dubious. On the ILO site providing data on child labour there is a lengthy and complicated document titled, ‘Statistical Information and Monitoring Programme on Child Labour [SIMPOC]’ (last updated in March 2006). The data that this document contains are all referred to as estimates and, although the methodology used to arrive at these figures is elaborate and detailed, in the latest update many countries that are said to have high populations of child labour, such as India, do not even find a mention!

Giving the ILO the benefit of the doubt, the 11% reduction claim is impressive. However, reading carefully between the lines reveals that this claim is only applicable to children working in the most intolerable forms of child labour. (ILO Convention 182 defines the term ‘the worst forms of child labour’ as: (a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; (b) the use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; (c) the use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties; (d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children). This would mean, for example, that for every 1,000 children working as child prostitutes in Thailand, now there are only 890. The 110 who got away are certainly fortunate, although one wonders where they are now and how they are faring. Or have they just grown up and crossed the age of 18, to be now counted as adult prostitutes? If this is the kind of progress that can be shown by the ILO in the decade since Convention 182 has been in force, when will the ‘end be within reach’ for the remaining 8,900 child prostitutes, and how? (ILO Convention 183 concerns the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. By ratifying this convention, countries commit themselves to taking immediate action to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labour.)

It is unfortunate that the ILO, the last surviving body to be formed as a result of the Versailles Treaty, has gone the way of other UN agencies. As the doctrine of ‘free trade’ increased in momentum, most UN agencies have been slowly and surely dismantled and rendered increasingly powerless.

With the setting up of the IPEC or International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour, in 1992, the ILO -- which was thus far a regulatory body and a protector of workers’ rights -- became an implementing agency as well. This programme is largely funded by the United States and is therefore, controlled and directed by it to serve its trade agenda. The IPEC is also the only growth area within the ILO -- in fact the programme keeps the organisation afloat while all other sections of the ILO have been reduced to tokenism. 

The ILO was set up to be a tripartite body consisting of representatives of governments, workers and employers. However, when it came to discussions on child labour, the ILO refused to recognise the right of working children to represent themselves -- and this was not for want of trying on the part of working children’s movements around the world.

Instead, the ILO chose to recognise some select, privileged First World children to be their ambassadors to end child labour and turned a deaf ear to the solutions offered by child workers themselves. Excluding them from the debate and criminalising their means of livelihood without offering any viable alternatives, the ILO now resorts to issuing Red Cards to child workers around the world, symbolically debarring them from participation in the economic arena. In the presence of football stars who “kicked the ball” against child labour, this initiative was launched with a football match between children from the International School of Geneva and the Signal de Bernex Football Club, two sets of very privileged human beings who will never experience or understand the ensnarement of poverty, the complexity of the lives and the pain of working children who know they have few choices.  

Footballers are shown the red card by umpires for misdemeanours they commit, but working children are shown this card by the privileged for no fault of theirs. They work because of the prevailing political and socio-economic conditions, for which the world that is zealously engaged in ‘globalising’ our planet along corporate lines is too busy to find solutions.

To quote journalist Palagunmi Sainath in Everybody Loves a Good Drought: “Development is the strategy of evasion. When you can’t give people land reform, give them hybrid cows. When you can’t send children to school, try non-formal education. When you can’t provide basic health to people, talk of health insurance. Can’t give them jobs? Not to worry, just redefine the words ‘employment opportunities’.”To this one may add: “If you don’t want to really solve the causes of child labour -- just ban it and hope it will go away.”

Interestingly, the MDGs do not include the elimination of child labour even though the ILO lobbied vociferously for its inclusion. Instead, they make a strong call for “fair globalisation” and “full and productive employment and decent work for all, including for women and young people”, combining this with the central objective of “poverty reduction strategies”. In fact, the MDGs go even further by resolving to “ensure full respect for the fundamental principles and rights to work”.

This is contrary to the approach of the ILO (which is mirrored by the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank) which denies children the ‘right to any work’ and violates their ‘fundamental rights’ and the principles governing these in their zeal to implement conventions banning child labour. On the one hand, the trade organisation clamours for clauses that will reduce the so-called “trade competition” between First and Third World countries, and on the other hand traditional UN agencies set up to protect human and fundamental rights fight for autonomy to continue to fulfil their role.

With the US’s attempt to include social clauses (the issues sought to be included as part of the social clauses in GATT were: (1) freedom of association; freedom to collective organisation and bargaining; (2) freedom from forced or compulsory labour; (3) a minimum age of employment for children; and (4) measures setting minimum standards in respect of conditions of work) in the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT), the arbiter of world trade donned the mantle of the ombudsperson of human rights. This is akin to the local moneylender becoming the protector of human rights.

The irony is that while multinational corporations are demanding more deregulation of industry and the lowering of labour standards to give them more freedom to be ‘efficient’, they are also clamouring for increased regulation of child labour laws to reduce competition from domestic industry. Neither is acceptable. On the one hand, deregulation can lead to corporations being able to undermine basic social and human rights; on the other, overbearing regulations with regard to child labour give too much power to a few -- and a situation that leads to unfairness in trade and basic human rights.

In his lecture titled ‘How did the rich countries really become rich?’ Ha-Joon Chang of the faculty of economics, University of Cambridge (http://www.btinternet.com/~pae_news/review/issue15.htm)  said: “The short answer to this question is that the developed countries did not get to where they are now through the policies and the institutions that they recommend to developing countries today. Most of them actively used ‘bad’ trade and industrial policies, such as infant industry protection and export subsidies -- practices that these days are frowned upon, if not actively banned, by the WTO. Until they were quite developed (that is, until the late-19th to early-20th century), they had very few of the institutions deemed essential by developing countries today, including such ‘basic’ institutions as central banks and limited liability companies.

“If this is the case, aren’t the developed countries, under the guise of recommending ‘good’ policies and institutions, actually making it difficult for the developing countries to use policies and institutions they themselves had used in order to develop economically in earlier times?

“It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him. In this lies the secret of the cosmopolitical doctrine of Adam Smith, and of the cosmopolitical tendencies of his great contemporary, William Pitt, and of all his successors in the British government administrations.”

Huligamma remembers a time in her village when they heard news of the ‘golden road’ or ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ that was being built some four kilometres away. The family decided to go on a picnic to see this marvel. They packed their rotis and chutney and went to view it. They ate their lunch on the divider. Huligamma stared into the distance. It looked as if a mammoth black serpent had uncoiled itself, slithering over villages, fields, hills, lakes and forests.

At dusk, as they were returning home in their bullock-cart, they passed rows and rows of women who were defecating along the road. Villages here had no toilets, no water and no sanitation. Women had to wait until dark to relieve themselves, and the road was the safest place for that. Huligamma thought back to what she had seen that day, the golden road, and wondered at the incredible creation. How it had subdued nature and humankind! If Mother India was capable of this, why had she not bothered with the numerous problems her own community suffered? Was Mother India too busy, or too tired? Had she no affection for them?

The chief economist at the World Bank, Larry Summers (later US treasury secretary in the Clinton administration), who was an ardent supporter of structural adjustment policies, wrote a leaked internal memo in 1992 that exposed the extent to which international policies have an impact on countries around the world:

“Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of dirty industries to the LDCs (least developed countries)?… The economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable, and we should face up to that… Under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted; their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City… The concern over an agent that causes a one-in-a-million change in the odds of prostate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostate cancer than in a country where under-five mortality is 200 per thousand.”( Lawrence Summers, ‘Let them eat pollution’, The Economist, February 8, 1992. Quoted from Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest, South End Press, 2000, p 6)

This is in an era where there is immense wealth in increasingly fewer hands. “Twenty per cent of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures -- the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%,” according to the United Nations Development Programme’s 1998 ‘Human Development Report’.

Huligamma coughs and tries to cover her mouth against the exhaust fumes. She often has a bad cough, but this time it does not seem to be going away. She suddenly tenses; she had heard the corporation van approaching with a convoy. This signals the periodic round-up by the labour department in cooperation with the municipality and the police. She grabs her brother and sister and rushes for a gap in the wall of an old house where a multi-storeyed office complex is being constructed. She ducks behind some rubble. Just in time! They have managed to escape. What a relief! Otherwise they would have been taken to the beggars’ colony and would have had to buy themselves out by paying Rs 200 each. She did not have that kind of money.   

The Canadian government’s website says: “Child labour is not an easy issue to resolve; while it seems noble to immediately withdraw investments and cooperation with firms and factories that employ child labour, it may do more harm than good. Many of these children are from very poor families and work to pay for their family and/or their education. Depriving them of this income has led to some children seeking different, lower paid work, and even prostitution in some cases. Other ways with schemes to help children would likely be needed so that this labour can be phased out. A gradual phase-out is said to be a more preferable solution.”

In a recent article in Business Standard, August 10, 2006, ‘Child labour ban: If wishes were horses...’, journalist Shyamal Majumdar reflected on the recent piece of child labour legislation seeking to ban children from working as domestic servants or at hotels, tea shops, restaurants and resorts, which is just an extension of the existing Child Labour Act of 1986.  “Will the ban work?” he asked. “The answer is quite obvious, going by the track record so far. ‘If wishes were horses, law could change men’s minds,’ says a former official in the Maharashtra labour department. That legislation can have only a negligible impact is apparent from the fact that child labour is nothing but a by-product of grinding poverty. These children are holding out a slim lifeline to impoverished families, or are just trying to keep themselves from starvation. 

“The dilemma is similar to that of the ban on dance bars in Mumbai on the grounds that it would put an end to the exploitation of these women. What happened to those 70,000-odd bar girls after the ban? Some became prostitutes, some went back home only to be ostracised, and some committed suicide. As long as alternative sources of income are not found for families whose children work in banned sectors, the law would continue to be flouted.”

Huligamma’s dream of becoming a teacher is fast fading. She stares at the new ad for jeans, a bare-chested man with his hand inside the waistband of his faded and frayed jeans. She looks down at her own torn and faded skirt and loose-fitting blouse, two sizes too big. She wonders how she fits in. Are these two sides of the same world? Will they ever become one?

She watches her little brother and sister sharing a banana, each one making sure the other has had an equal share. Why didn’t others do the same when they who had so little were so giving? What future did her siblings have? What would become of them? They had no options and no choices. Each day was a struggle for survival, and things were changing so fast.

Huligamma and her siblings, like millions of other children around the world, will live on the fringes of society, never really counted, never considered an economic or social asset, never becoming one of the mindless consumers who are central to the new age economy. She will remain one of the ‘excluded and invisible,’ a mere embarrassing statistic to be hidden amidst the folds of political rhetoric.

(Nandana Reddy is Director Development, The Concerned for Working Children, Bangalore)

InfoChange News & Features, February 2007