Child Labour: A Demon in the Indian Society

Posted on June 14, 2009 in Society

Anshul Tewari

Raju wakes up at 6 every morning. After preparing rice for his 2 sisters, who are 4 to 5 years each, Raju leaves for a nearby construction site to continue his work. Raju’s mother, however, goes to a few houses to help clean the households, and his father is usually drunk, thus, does nothing. After 10 hours of continuos work, Raju returns home, with a soar stomach and rugged hands.

His mother prepares rice for them and each member of the family has not more than 5 tea spoons of rice, enough to help them survive the night.

Raju is only 8 years old and is a child labourer working in a residential area of Delhi. He misses his childhood, all he knows is that he has to earn enough to get his sisters married off.

India has been talking about child labour more often than not, at seminars, in the parliament, by NGO’s and at many more places and by many more people. At a time when India is witnessing an abnormal high in the number of children associated with this problem, Youth Ki Awaaz brings forth a report which will help us understand better, the solutions for this problem. Why are we facing this problem? How did it emerge? What are the areas of concern and how can we solve them? We present to you an analysis of child labour in India focussing on its various aspects.

In India, officially there are around 16 million child labourers, but if we trust the unofficial sources, the number crosses 60 million. A country where 70% of the population lives in rural areas, around 50-60% children are being forced into child labour. Let’s understand this evil and try to curb it.

Usually, when we think of child labour, the first thing that comes to our mind is a child working in a factory. But this is not it, child labour ranges from factories to mines, to construction areas to small tea stalls and every other work. Children, who are at the receiving end, end up with ruined lives, bleak and a misty future and physical as well as psychological disorders.

Child labourers are divided in a number of sectors. Namely, I. Cultivation, II. Agricultural Labour, III. Livestock, Forestry, Fishing, Plantation, IV. Mining and Quarrying, V. Manufacturing, Processing, Servicing and Repairs, VI. Construction, VII. Trade and Commerce, VIII. Transport, Storage and Communication, and IX. Other Services (Census of India 1981 cited in Nangia 1987, 72).

Labour by children is an outcome of many reasons other than the well known poverty, unemployment, lack of education. They are either in debt bondage or pledged for advances contracted by parents. Some of them are victims of illusory promises made by procurers about bright prospects after undergoing training in certain trades. People say that the points stated above are the reasons behind child labour. But we argue the other way. Our experience and the various studies conducted by researchers corroborate the fact that child labour is equally, if not solely responsible for causing and perpetuating unemployment, poverty, population growth and illiteracy.

Looking at the states which have the highest number of child labourers, Andhra Pradesh tops the list with over 18 million child labourers, followed by Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

The industries in which children are employed are:

Matches, Fireworks and Explosives- Sivakasi

Glass and Bangles- Ferozabad

Beedi Making- Nizamabad, North Arcot District

Carpet Making- Bhadoi, Varanasi , Mirzapur , Jammu and Kashmir

Lock-making- Aligarh

Brassware- Moradabad

Export Oriented Garment Industry- Tiruppur

Gem Polishing Export Industry- Jaipur, Rajasthan

Slate Mines and Manufacturing Units- Markkapur

Leather Units- Agra , Kanpur , Durg, Rajasthan

Diamond Industry- Surat

India has the dubious distinction of being the nation with the largest number of child laborers in the world. The child labors endure miserable and difficult lives. They earn little and struggle to make enough to feed themselves and their families. They do not go to school; more than half of them are unable to learn the barest skills of literacy. The environmental degradation and lack of employment avenues in the rural areas also cause people to migrate to big cities. On arrival in overcrowded cities the disintegration of family units takes place through alcoholism, unemployment or disillusionment of better life etc. This in turn leads to emergence of street children and child workers who are forced by their circumstances to work from the early age. The girls are forced to work as sex -workers or beggars. A large number of girls end up working as domestic workers on low wages and unhealthy living conditions.

Some times children are abandoned by their parents or sold to factory owners. The last two decades have seen tremendous growth of export based industries and mass production factories utilizing low technologies. They try to maintain competitive positions through low wages and low labor standards. The child laborers exactly suit their requirements. They use all means to lure the parents into giving their children on pretext of providing education and good life.

People come here, read the articles, get the point, but rarely do they implement stuff in their daily lives. When asked for solutions, various NGO’s told YKA the following:

-Stop eating at dhabas and restaurants which promote child labour.
-Condemn the business and industries which preach child labour
-Do not employ a child to work at your place or at your workplace.

These points are common and heard of. But Youth Ki Awaaz completely differs from these illogical points. Yes, we are being radical. These points are illogical, excpet for the last one.

And the reason behind them being illogical is simple. Consider this, if you stop going to a restaurant which preaches child labour, stop buying clothes of a brand which preaches child labour, condemn a corporate who preaches child labour or an industry which preaches child labour, you are just killing the child. He would have no money, thus, no food, thus, empty stomach (both the child and the family), and no place to live, thus, the child would die. Right?

So what is the solution? Let’s understand this by the easiest way possible. What is the prime reason for child labour? Poverty. What is the prime reason for poverty? Unemployment. What is the prime reason for unemployment? Education.

This might sound cliche, but yes, EDUCATION is the solution. Some argue that there is a lack of opportunity, but we say, what good would opportunity be if there is no education. Right?

The need of the hour is to make education available to each and every child, especially in the rural areas.

Youth Ki Awaaz asked a few children who were working as labourers, aged around 15 to 16 years, about the reforms that they would want. The reason behind asking this age group was the fact that they have a better understanding in terms of work and the problems that they face. Their list was as follows, we have modified a bit to make it look more realistic and we have added a few points as well:

1. Enforce existing laws on child labour.

2. Every child should enjoy a free and compulsory education till they complete 18 years.

3. Develop alternative education options and training schemes for child labourers.

4. Enhance economic security and resilience of household of all child labourers.

5. Ensure participation of child labourers in decisions that affect them.

6. Right to Education Bill, 2008 should be passed in the Parliament at the earliest.

7. Allocate over 5% of GDP for education.

“There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.”– Kofi Annan