“Child labour is evil,” says Aimé Bada, a defender of minors’ rights from Senegal. “But it is a necessary evil, because without the income the children earn in the poorest countries of the world, their families would be worse off.” Bada knows what he is talking about. He spent his childhood earning to pay family bills; he had to. He has now become an advocate of children’s rights, and in that he includes the right to work. Bada told a workshop on child labour in Helsinki that children must be given the right to define the terms of the work they have to perform, and protected from abuses by employers, both at the domestic and the corporate level.

Plenty of people have ridiculed the ban, saying it is unworkable - it is estimated there are 500,000 child workers in these occupations in Delhi alone - and pointed at the government's pretty feeble plans to enforce it as further evidence of yet another pie-in-the sky paper initiative.

I disagree with the nay-sayers. The ban is an important statement of intent and a significant and welcome change from the age-old position that child labour is a 'necessary evil' given widespread poverty in Indian society.

Clearly in the real world child labour will not stop overnight - there aren't the schools, hostels etc to accommodate and rehabilitate these children even if the government had the manpower to round them up - but it's no bad thing to make a statement of intent.

It might also raise awareness and change attitudes among India's new middle classes who, increasingly, find themselves needing double-incomes households, even after starting families.

However this often means hiring school-age girls from placement agencies, often for just 1,000 - 1,500 rupees a month.

There are one or two excellent NGOs in Delhi who are devoted to mopping up the casualties of this system. In the worst cases these girls find themselves imprisoned in their master's homes, denied wages, beaten, starved and even raped.