Author: Samiksha Gupta
Founder, Editor and Writer | Leagle Samiksha
Introduction to Jamlo Makdam Case:
Almost a century ago, in 1924, the nations of the world came together in Geneva to acknowledge and declare that humanity “owes to the Child, the best it has to give”. Ironically, Jamlo lost her life in a remote village in India, amongst the lockdown enforced due to corona pandemic. The reason was dehydration and exhaustion as per medical reports.
Jamlo Makdam, a 12 years old tribal girl hailing from Chhattisgarh made it to headlines in the past months. Unfortunately, it was for the wrong reasons. This is her (read, not only her) story.
A labour agent took labourers including Jamlo and four other minors to work in chilli fields. These fields belonged to a farmer in Kanhaiguda village of Mulgu district in Telangana. That place was about 150 km away from their native village. After the lockdown was imposed, the work came to a halt, and so did the wages and food provided by the employer. Consequently, the group of workers was left to starve in the fields. Thus, left with no other choice, they began their backward journey on foot.
On their way, they met with many hardships. Jamlo fell in the fields, sustained injuries, but did not stop walking. After having a meal on the morning of the third day of their journey, she complained of stomach ache and uneasiness. Shortly after, she died some 50 km away from her native village.
Following is an account of the rights that children like Jamlo possessed, but could not claim.
Freedom from Child Labour:
Firstly, India is largely an agrarian economy and statistics show that agriculture is the single biggest employer of child labourers globally. Further, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Target 8.7 urges the States to end child labour, in all its forms, by 2025. With 10.1 million children aged between 5 to 14 years still engaged in labour, it still seems like a distant goal for India to achieve.
Despite having ratified the Convention Number 138 and Convention Number 182, the Indian Constitution still allows for child labour in non-hazardous sectors. Therefore, labour agents still take children like Jamlo. They are employed in farms, fields and factories, for instance, that are hundreds of kilometres away from their native places.
Right to Education:
The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002 inserted Article 21 A, the Right to Education. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 further strengthened it. Additionally, under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Mid-day Meal Scheme, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme, the government tries to enrol more and more children in schools.
However, 42.7 million children in India within the age group 6-14 years are still out of schools. The primary reason for this is the vicious loop of poverty begetting illiteracy, and illiteracy begetting poverty. Jamlo is one amongst many such children who are deprived of their right to education due to these social and economic reasons.
Assistance, and Not Neglect of Migrant Workers:
The imposition of lockdown was accompanied by states sealing their borders. Therefore, the migrant workers who tried to ply back to their homes via the highways met with police brutalities on their way. Additionally, the police subjected them to degrading and cruel treatment for violating the norms of the lockdown. The group of people including Jamlo, thus, took to travelling through secluded areas covered in dense and dangerous forests to cover the 150 kilometres journey from Telangana to Chhattisgarh.
Any reasonable person may foresee the hardships of travelling through forests. However, scary forests might appear like a haven to someone yearning to reach home while avoiding being beaten up on the journey. During her perilous journey, Jamlo Makdam fell in the fields and sustained multiple injuries. Her post-mortem also revealed that she had a hairline crack on her rib bones. Not only that, the group was also forced to walk for hours straight without adequate supplies of food or water, thus resulting in fatal levels of dehydration amongst the group members.
Action Taken by State in case of Jamlo Makdam:
The State government provided monetary compensation to the kin of the deceased. Secondly, the woman who worked as the labour agent for employer of Jamlo Makdam has been apprehended. She is also charged with sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 370 (human trafficking), 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. In addition to that, the other provisions invoked pertain to the Juvenile Justice Act for transporting minors with the intention of taking work from them.
The million-dollar question is, should not the atrocities that Jamlo sustained in her life make the headlines, instead of the news of her death? Could we have saved her? The heartbreaking answer is yes, and yes. The real problem is that the governance system is reactive rather than proactive. Certainly, the unfortunate death of Jamlo Makdam, other children of migrant workers, and hundreds of child labourers could have been protected.
No amount of money is sufficient for bringing a child back to life. Nor can money compensate for the years of childhood lost under the dark shadows of child labour. It is evident that the pandemic has unmasked the system which fails to protect the rights of our children. It has also brought to light the ugly truth of the inefficiency of the State to bring the rights contained in conventions and legislatures to fruition for the most vulnerable children.
In conclusion, this is far from the “best”, as discussed in the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child, that humanity has to offer to children.
 Fact Sheet: Child Labour in India, ILO https://www.ilo.org/newdelhi/whatwedo/publications/WCMS_557089/lang–en/index.htm
 C-138, Minimum Age Convention,1973 https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C138
 12-year-old walks 150 km from Telangana to her Chhattisgarh home, dies of exhaustion, India Today (Apr 21, 2020) https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/12-year-old-walks-150-km-from-telangana-to-her-chhattisgarh-home-dies-of-exhaustion-1669297-2020-04-21
 C’garh: Woman booked for girl’s death during lockdown journey, Telangana Today (Apr 23, 2020) https://telanganatoday.com/cgarh-woman-booked-for-girls-death-during-lockdown-journey