Child Labour

A Social Evil

Child Labour

Children are often regarded as close to God and are looked upon as someone who brings joy, laughter, and happiness. The future of any nation depends on the children, who are the foundational stones of a nation’s growth. But the pictures of child labour that we often come across at various places, like traffic signals, factories, restaurants, etc., are excruciatingly disturbing. When children who are supposed to study in schools and enjoy their childhood are found toiling in manual labour, the conscience of the nation shatters. With already 1 in 10 child labour in the world being from India, we carry the highest burden of the menace of child labour.

What is Child Labour?    

Child labour is a global menace and not just restricted to any single country. In simple words, child labour is defined as the employment of children in any manual work. Various agencies have slight tweaks to the basic definition in terms of what constitutes manual work and who falls under the category of children. According to the Child labour prohibition act 1986, a “child” is a person who hasn’t yet attained the age of 14 years. At this tender age, children are supposed to grow, study, play, and enjoy the joy of childhood, bereft of any mental and physical stresses. Instead, many in this age group are being forced to work to make the ends of their families meet, and this is called child labour.

International Labour Organisation [ILO] defines child labour as “a work that not only affects their childhood but also doesn’t let the children attend the school regularly, or have a proper education.” Similarly, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) defines child labour as a child belonging to ages between 5-11 years and is engaged in at least one hour of economic activity or 28 hours of domestic work in a week. Though the definitions have a slight variation, the overall crux remains the same, i.e., any child being subjected to manual labour.

Extent of Child Labour in India

  • According to the 2011 census, out of a total of 25.96 crore children in India, 1.01 crore children were either working as main workers or marginal workers.
  • Child Labour in IndiaAs per the same census, there are 3.3 crore children aged between 5-18 years who were deemed, child labourers. They constitute nearly 7.4% of the total child population in India (5-18 years).
  • As per the survey conducted by ‘Action Aid India’, 1 out of 11 Indian children work to earn their livelihood.
  • According to official UN data, there are about 15.2 crore children across the globe working as child labourers, out of which India alone accounts for around 7.3 per cent of that.
  • Child labour is highly prevalent in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. These five states contribute to more than half of Indian child labour figures.
  • Uttar Pradesh tops the unwanted list, with almost 20% of India’s child labour hailing from this single state alone.
  • Rural India records the maximum percentage of child labour, with as high as 80 percent of India’s total child labour emanating from rural areas.
  • Most of the child labourers in India can be found in the sectors like brick kilns, domestic service, agriculture, carpet weaving, garment making, food and refreshment services (such as tea stalls), fisheries, and mining.

Types of Child labour in India

Child labour is manifested in myriad ways in India, some of which include;

Reasons Behind the Social Evil

Poverty: In developing countries that are riddled with massive poverty, children are often regarded as the helping hands of their respective families. In BPL families, it is difficult for the parents to look after their needs, and hence children are forcibly engaged in economic activities to support themselves and their families. It is no coincidence that the states with a high prevalence of child labour are also the ones with the highest share of poverty in India.

Debt Trap: owing to their poor financial resources, many marginalised families end up taking loans from either institutional or non-institutional sources. Unable to repay the loans, they try to maximize and commodify their human resources, thereby deploying their kids in economically remunerative activities.

Bonded Labour: when the debts taken are from non-institutional sources, they often end up in perennial financial obligation. As a result, they offer their children’s hard labour as a source of repayment. Usually, the services of children are undervalued, and hence their services would never be sufficient to repay their debts. As a result, they end up as bonded labour. Such bonded child labourers are prevalent more in sectors like brick kilns, agriculture, and other unorganised units. Bonded labour work in the most deplorable and inhumane working conditions.

Professional Needs: There are few industries where only the hands of children are suited for the work owing to the intricate and precision work demands. Adult hands are too big to carry out such tasks. Hence industries like bangle manufacturing, toy manufacturing, etc. attract child labour.

Info 1Lax Implementation of the Law: The administrative apparatus is usually indifferent to the plight of child labour. They often turn a blind eye to the pathetic destitute of child labour. Adding insult to the injury, much of the child labour happens in connivance with the local officials. Sahariya tribes in Rajasthan have been victims of this politicians-police nexus where bonded labour of children goes unabashed. Further compounding the woes, most of officials are unaware of the statutes that safeguard children from descending into child labour.

Mass Unawareness: Parents of the child labourers are so marginalised that they are oblivious of the government’s schemes like free primary education, NFSA 2013, etc., and often fail to avail these benefits. Also, the lack of understanding of the repercussions of engaging children in hard labour by the parents often drag down the children to such destitution.

Lack of Social Mobility: Due to poor access to education and economic opportunities to the marginalised communities, both historically and contemporarily, they lack the means to rise up on the economic ladder. This results in poverty and, finally in, child labour.

Pandemic: As the pandemic has pushed swathes of the population into poverty, many children were relocated from schools to working avenues to make ends meet. The pandemic has struck as a bane to the children and further exacerbated the problem.

Consequences of Child Labour

Violation of Fundamental Rights: Child labour often violates not just one but a plethora of basic and fundamental human rights. Right to life, right to freedom, right to equal opportunities, right to dignity, right to health, and fundamental rights explicitly mentioned in article 23 and article 24 and many statutory rights like the right to free and compulsory education, NFSA, etc., are being trampled by the child labour. It also violates many of the international rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of International human rights (Bill of rights). 

Health Hazard: Children working in several hazardous industries expose themselves to scores of ailments by virtue of their working conditions. A recent survey exposed the dark sides of the health issues associated with child labour. Children engaged in tobacco and other associated factories are vulnerable to nicotine poisoning.

Info 2Similarly, in small-scale manufacturing units like match-making, fireworks, incense sticks, etc., children constitute a large chunk of employment. Many children were charred to death due to intermittent fire accidents at these unorganised units. Children exposed to works like waste picking and garbage handling are prone to health issues like gastro disorders, vomiting, diarrhoea, skin diseases, typhoid, and respiratory ailments, etc. since they are poor and lack access to basic medical aid, they often succumb to chronic diseases and to death. Around 22,000 child deaths per year are attributed to the nature of work.

Lack of Education: As children are being forced to engage in economic activities due to myriad reasons, consequently, they are kept away from formal education. As a result, they perennially remain uneducated, low-skilled and end up working as unskilled workers all their lives. It’s a vicious cycle that children can’t break out of.

Human Trafficking: Child labourers are an easy target for human trafficking. They are being trafficked both within and across the borders for various purposes, more importantly for sexual exploitation. Sexual abuse, HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, exploitation of girls, sexual assault, and prostitution are also the repercussions of trafficking of the child labour.

Crime Rate: Lack of education, parental care, the warmth of the house, socialising, community living, bad exposure, marginalisation by society, etc, cumulatively turn the children into anti-social elements. Addiction to drugs, alcoholism, rape, prostitution, theft, etc., are often found to be practiced by child labour. They end up languishing in jails for years due to the lack of access to legal aid.

Inequal Pay: Since most of the child labour hail from the marginalized communities who lack basic awareness, their hard labour is usually exploited without adequate monetary rewards. For the same amount of work, they are not even paid half as much as been paid to adults.

Malnutrition: Child labour who are usually poor lack the basic resources to afford nutritious food. As a result, they are lethally mal-nutritioned, falling well behind in all the nutritional parameters. According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, nearly 33 lakh children in India are malnourished, and half of them are severely malnourished. A large chunk of these children is engaged in child labour.

Exploitation as Domestic Ads: Many children work as domestic help at houses, away from their parents and native places. They are left at the mercy of their employers. We’ve seen the news where domestic employers often exploiting and assaulting their domestic helpers (child labour). Administration bats an eye only when it becomes a news. Till then, it goes under the carpet with a sense of impunity.

Trauma: The mental trauma associated with being exploited, assaulted, trafficked, marginalised, and kept aloof from a dignified life haunts the children for the rest of their lives. It hampers their self-confidence and their potential growth.

State Support

Constitutional provisions

  • Article 21A: Right to education Indian Constitution provides for free and compulsory education to each and every child who is between the age of 6 to 14 years. Free and compulsory education is to be provided in the manner laid down by the State and in a manner determined by the law.
  • Article 23: Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.
  • Article 24: Prohibition of employment of children in factories, etc- Indian Constitution prohibits employment of children under 14 years from being employed in any hazardous factories, occupations or industries.
  • DPSP: Directive principles of state policy direct the state to –
    1. Article 39(e)Provides that the State shall direct its policy towards securing the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused
    2. Article 39(e)State shall direct its policy towards securing that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.

Statutes

  • Minimum wages act 1948: State governments fix the minimum ceiling of payment including to those of Child labourers. Wages are fixed basing up on the type of work and class of workers.
  • Indian factories act 1948: Children below the age of 14 years are prohibited from being employed in factories.
  • The plantation labour act 1951: This act explicitly prohibits the employment of children under the age of 12 years in plantations. A child above 12 can be employed only after obtaining health certificate from a doctor.
  • The Mines act 1952: This act prohibits employment of children in mining activities
  • The child labour (prohibition & regulation) act 1986: Children under 14 years shall not be employed in any hazardous occupations that are provided in a statutory list. This list is flexible and thus was amended in 2006 and in 2008.
  • The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act, 2000: A person who employs children in hazardous works or as bonded labour is liable to be punished.
  • The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009: Free and compulsory education shall be provided to each and every child below 14 years of age. To fructify this provision, 25% of seats are also reserved in every private school to accommodate children hailing from the disadvantaged communities.
  • The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016:
    • Employment of children under the age of 14 years in any commercial enterprise is strictly illegal.
    • Prohibits the employment of adolescentsin occupations with hazardous working conditions such as chemicals and mines.
    • children are permitted to work only after school hours or during holidays and are allowed to work only in family-owned firms.
    • The Appropriate Government can empower the District Magistrate with requisite powers and duties to enforce the provisions of this Act.
  • Platform for Effective Enforcement for No Child Labour (PENCIL) Portal 2017

International Conventions

International Labour Organisation [ILO] was a specialised U.N. agency for standardizing the labour standards, develop policies and formulate programmes. The countries that ratify the conventions and instruments of ILO are legally bound to implement them in their respective countries. India had recently ratified two of its conventions that corresponds to child labour;

  1. Convention no.138: It sets minimum age for the entry into employment.
  2. Convention no.182: Prohibits worst forms of child labour

Road blocks in the Implementation of Laws

Despite plethora of laws, policies, and constitutional provisions, child labour has been rampant and prevalent unabashedly in India. A few of the reasons are;

  1. Lack of awareness: Both among the public and the implementation authorities. Officials have no clue of the provisions of the statutes, and people are unaware of their rights.
  2. Lack of political will: Child labour has never been enough limelight in the political discourse. They never feature in the agendas of the political parties. Nor do they find any incentive in eradicating this issue since they do not constitute the vote banks.
  3. Poverty: Despite the laws, poor and marginalised parents have no other option but to enrol their kids in remunerative activities. Education doesn’t pay immediate dividends. Hence, they don’t find it motivating to enrol their children in academics.
  4. Understaffed agencies: The agencies involved in tackling this menace are grossly understaffed. The menace of this size and scale can only be tackled with adequate human resources.

Role of NGOs

Owing to the administrational lacunae and the reluctance of the private sector to share the burden, NGOs have been rising up to the need and are rendering invaluable services in tackling the menace. They have been undertaking a range of activities like identifying the child labour, liberating them from the clutches of bonded labour, educating them, availing them medical services and nutritionary requirements, counselling the victims and the parents, etc. Their basic contributions include;

  • Eradicating child labour

It involves working in two aspects i.e., fighting both demand and supply side

  1. Demand side: NGOs counsel and educate the trade organisations to convince employers to refrain from employing children through awareness generation. NGOs like ‘Save the Children’ perform regular raids at work places & liberate children from the workplaces.
  2. Supply side: Families and parents are counselled to dissuade them from sending their child for work. Access to education is availed to their children to prevent the parents from taking the desperate decision of selling their children to slavery.
  • Education & enrolment

  1. Emphasising on the importance of education
  2. Availing education in their vicinities
  3. Providing an inclusive child friendly environment
  4. Bringing the dropouts back to classrooms
  5. Enrolling the street children and child labour in the schools
  • Rehabilitation

NGOs work closely with the government programs like ICDS, NFSA, RTE, Juvenile justice Act, and government ministries like ministry of family and child welfare, ministry for women, etc, to rehabilitate the rescued children. They provide shelter, education, and health for the distressed child labour.

Some of the famous NGOs engaged in these activities are;

  1. Kailash Satyarthi’s foundation: Founded by the Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, it is dedicated to eliminating the exploitation of children, educating them, and engaging the private sector to lend active help to fight the menace. They have innovatively created a child-friendly model village called “Bal Mitra gram” that protects children from exploitative labour by ensuring their rights and wellbeing. This has been achieved by involving the local communities and the participation of children themselves through the creation of Bal Panchayats.
  2. Global March Against Child Labour: It is a global network of trade unions, teachers, and civil society organisations that works towards the eradication of child labour, slavery, and the trafficking of children. It is the single largest network dedicated to the cause of child labour in the world.
  3. Smile foundation: Their main motto is to impart education to child labour and other disadvantaged children and prevent them from engaging in menial labour. They are working to fight child labour through education.

Way Forward 

Following measures would go a long way in fighting the social evil of child labour;

  1. Leveraging the panchayat network: As we have learnt that 80% of child labour emanate from the rural area, panchayats can be made to play a decisive role. Empowering the panchayat to conduct raids and penalise the offenders, periodic awareness generation campaigns conducted by the panchayats, cutting down the demand for child labour, etc. could prove decisive.
  2. Integrated approach: As of now, the governments efforts are fragmented. Government should consolidate the efforts of various ministries and various state governments to put up a collective fight against child labour.
  3. Human resources: Sensitizing and creating awareness among the law implementing agencies is the need of the hour.
  4. Active engagement with civil societies: Civil society organisation has a huge wealth of expertise to tackle the menace. Government should leverage this to reach out to the corners that traditional administrational apparatus cannot reach.

As Kailash Satyarthi quoted, Each time I free a child, I feel it is something closer to God.” It’s high time that we realise that the children are blessing of divine to a family. Onus is upon us to preserve the innocence and tenderness that they are blessed with. We as a society must collectively come forward to create a conducive environment and society for the children to enjoy their childhood and bloom like buds.

                                                                                          

References

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