Child Labour: India and the World

Posted on July 13, 2010 in Society

By Bindu N Doddahatti:

Fundamentally, the child labourers are the child workers involved in the chores that are hazardous to their overall development.  This practice is considered exploitative by many international organisations and is illegal in many countries. Millions of child labourers abound in higher percentage in countries of Asia and Africa. They are primarily seen working in hazardous factories, polishing shoes, hotels, fields and as domestic helps.

Child labour was utilized to varying extents through most of history, but entered public dispute with the advent of universal schooling, with changes in working conditions during the industrial revolution, and with the emergence of the concepts of workers’ and children’s rights

According to ILO the number of child workers around the world remains extremely high with 73 million children from 10-14 years old now employed worldwide, more than 13 percent of all children in this age group.

At 17 million, India has the highest number of child labourers in the world which is a matter of shame. Most of the child labourers in India belong to the social groups Scheduled Tribes (STs), Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). A significant chunk of child labourers are minorities. According to statistics provided by Indian NGOs, 70 percent of child labourers are engaged in agriculture. They also work in construction industry, quarries, mines, brick kilns and small scale industries (unorganized sector). They are often found engaged in household activities, street restaurants (dhabas) and hazardous industries. About 17 percent were engaged in manufacturing, according to the 2004-05 National Sample Survey Organisation results. More girls than boys were found to be engaged in agriculture and manufacturing. One-tenth of the boys were engaged in trade as compared to just 2 percent of girls. About 11 percent of girl child workers were engaged in domestic duties in rural areas, collect water and firewood and prepare cow dung cakes for fuel.

Some common causes of child labour are poverty, parental illiteracy, social apathy, ignorance, lack of education and exposure, exploitation of cheap and unorganized labour. The family practice to inculcate traditional skills in children also pulls little ones inexorably in the trap of child labour, as they never get the opportunity to learn anything else. With this the Mafia gangs bring children for “Begging” in urban cities. A child beggar aged between five and ten collects the maximum. With a burn scar or other disfigurement, they can earn more.

In country like India where the population is burgeoning, adult unemployment and urbanization also cause child labour. Adults often find it difficult to find jobs because factory owners find it more beneficial to employ children at cheap rates. This exploitation is particularly visible in garment factories of urban areas. Adult exploitation of children is also seen in many places. Elders relax at home and live on the labour of poor helpless children.

Employing children for labour is an act that endangers a child’s physical/emotional health and development without giving the child an opportunity for good education, food and shelter. Of the four major types of child abuses, physical, sexual, emotional and neglect, child labour falls under neglect exploitation and emotional abuse. Child labour is the exploitation of children for commercial reasons.

Neglect is a different concept to exploitation and constitutes a failure to provide for a child’s basic need. The forms of neglect include physical, educational and emotional.                    Physical neglect includes inadequate provision of food, housing and clothing, denial of medical care and inadequate hygiene. Educational neglect is the failure to enrol a child at a mandatory school age in school. Emotional neglect is the lack of emotional support such as the failure to provide psychological care, domestic violence and allowing a child to participate in drugs and alcohol abuse. A child worker becomes alienated from the rest of the family, has low self esteem, and is likely to engage in self-destructive behaviour. He or she is likely to have impaired psychological development and develop anti-social behaviour including lying and living with fear complex.

Even after the combined efforts of the ILO and affected countries, the evil practice still exists. Over the years the number has come down but the efforts are not enough to drive out the sufferings of children.

Child labour is a global problem. If child labour is to be eradicated, the governments and agencies and those responsible for enforcement need to start doing their jobs. The most important thing is to increase awareness and keep discussing ways and means to check this problem. We have to decide whether we are going to take up the problem head-on and fight it any way we can or leave it to the adults who might not be there when things go out of hand.

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and it is the best hope for the future”- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Yes, if the future has to be secure then the resources must be preserved unharmed.