I always wonder why a child needs to work. Sometimes I ponder, when the child of a middle class family goes to school for education, an 8 year old girl comes to your place to wash the dishes. But we rarely look at the issue from this angle.
Child labour, defined as minors performing a type of work which deprives them from education and acquisition of skills which diminishes their health and development is at an all time high these days with India earning the dubious distinction of having the largest number of child labourers on the planet at around 50 million, with 2 million being added every year.
They constitute a major chunk of India’s population. Girls aged 12-13 are the preferred choice of 80 per cent households works as they are naive and can be easily manipulated. Evils like child slavery, child prostitution, child trafficking, children being used by naxalites, etc are growing under the sheet or child labour. Some one million children enter the sex trade every year, exploited by people or circumstances, leading this children into a bleak and misty future.
In India over 40% of population is under the poverty line and this is where the child labour is endemic. The unrelenting poverty forces the parents to push their young children in all forms of hazardous occupations. Child labour is a source of earning bread and butter for poor families. In some cases, a child’s income accounted for between 34 and 37 percent of the total household income for these families. Some parents being in huge debts, sold or abandoned their children to factory owners. These factory owners are in massive growth through low wages and low labour standards. And the child labour exactly fits in the brackets. (source)
Dheru is the 12-year old son of a very poor mother living in a slum in Kolkata with 3 siblings younger than himself. The single parent child works at a food stall in the College Street to meet ends. He gets Rs 20 a day after working rigorously in the roadside restaurant. I happened to ask him about his daily chore, ” … my mother works as a maid and her income is not adequate to feed us (4 children), so I work to support her. At least my lunch and dinner are being provided here. I later get the leftovers.”
There are many factors which contribute to promotion of this evil, none that we are not aware of. (click here for the problems and solutions in detail).
Banning child labour right away is not the solution. It will leave the children (and their families) craving for money for food. It could very well be a kick on the stomach of these children. Thus, making reforms to ensure that every BPL family gets a minimum wage to ensure that they are not deprived of food. Also, in Pakistan, there are NGOs that pay children to attend schools, we can have such organizations in India too.
Problems never get solved on their own. Things have to be worked out. In this problem innovative things need to be worked out. Are we ready?
The writer is a Kolkata based correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.