Advocates are up in arms over a New Delhi police ad that appears to promote child labor.
The controversial quarter-page black-and-white ad, which was splashed in The Times of India on Tuesday, features a somber-looking boy with the tagline: “Help him learn how to chop an onion. Before someone teaches him how to chop a head.
According to the police department, the ad took such a striking tone simply to encourage underprivileged young people to join the Delhi Police Yuva Foundation, which offers cooking, stitching and housekeeping workshops and aims to keep kids out of trouble, India Real Time reported. But child advocates say that blatantly pushing teens to perform tedious work is demeaning, and could exacerbate an already grave child-labor issue.
"The commission finds the advertisement in bad taste and diminishing the 'dignity and worth' of children, who are our future citizens,” the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights said in a statement released to a number of news outlets on Monday. “This advertisement depicts a vulnerable child as a future criminal, who can chop a head, if he is not being provided vocational training. Besides, teaching a child how to chop an onion does not really do justice to a child.”
Activists find the questionable ad particularly disconcerting because they say the country, as a whole, is failing its children.
According to Child Rights and You, a nonprofit that aims to provide justice for India’s children, 17 million kids in the country are forced to work, and clock in an average of 21 hours a week.
Though the Indian government banned child labor last August for children under 14, activists say they’ve seen no improvements. Government schools don’t have enough qualified teachers or potable drinking water. And the reality remains, children continue to work because they need to in order to survive, Ranjani Iyer Mohanty, wrote in an opinion piece for the Financial Times on Monday.
“Banning child labour without addressing poverty serves merely to eliminate a viable and currently necessary alternative for these children and their families,” Mohanty wrote. "Until we can alleviate poverty and eliminate the need for these children to work, simply banning child labour is both unrealistic and unhelpful.”
While the police can’t be tasked with putting an end to poverty, advocates are challenging law enforcement to see poor children as something other than just potential criminals.
"It only shows the trivial thinking of Delhi Police on child rights,” Ananth Asthana, an expert on juvenile justice, told Indian Express. “The authorities have a very wrong perception about juveniles, and this particular ad associates them with murder. For the police, the solution seems as simple as making children learn how to chop onions and cook chow mein.”