A Lost Childhood: Child Labourers In India

Posted on October 11, 2011 in Society

By Vaibhav Kathuria:

Childhood is one of the most fun filled, and unique period of one’s life. It is in our childhood that we all develop certain habits, and thoughts which help us throughout our lifetime. Childhood is like a growing plant, which requires the right atmosphere and water and soil for its healthy growth.  A nice and caring childhood with the right opportunities, and right guidance and also the right nutrition  can create much more responsible, aware and healthy citizens for the country. A right childhood is the pillar for a purposeful and right life. But sadly in our country, with its rising population, children are treated as a liability especially in the economically weaker sections  of the society. Children are made to do work as labourers and are treated  unfairly.  According to UNICEF , child  labour is  :  “any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, spiritual, moral or social development”.

With an officially estimated 12.6 million children engaged in hazardous occupations (2001 Census), India has the largest number of child labourers under the age of 14 in the world.  There is so much disparity in the country that on one side of the coin, children throw tantrums to get food at Mcdonalds while on the other side the child of the same age has to struggle to get two square meals. Children are employed in many industries and trades, including  footwear, brick kilns, stainless steel, hotels, and textile shops. Many work in e xport-oriented hazardous industries like carpet weaving, gem polishing, glass blowing, match works, brassware, electro-plating, lead mining, stone quarrying, lock making and beedi rolling (indigenous cigarette in which tobacco is rolled in a tendu leaf). Children are also employed in firework factories where in addition to getting robbed off their childhood, they are also robbed of their eyesight. Thousands of children work as bonded labor in India’s silk industry and the government is not able to do anything to protect their rights. Human resource organizations are calling to India to stop this, and there has even been a boycott in western countries against silk cloth from India due to child labour issues. Nearly 85 per cent of child labourers  in India are hard-to-reach, invisible and excluded, as they work largely in the unorganised sector, both rural and urban, within the family or in household-based units, which are generally out of the purview of labour laws.

Though we all know about the laws prevalent against child labour, we remain silent. We see children working at the roadside food stand, in car workshops, in households, in  shops ,yet we all are silent observers to their childhood being ruined.  There is a shop near our place, where a small child named Ramu works incessantly to earn his living. When I asked Ramu why he does not go to school he said that he has to support his family and his father would not allow him to go to school. In some village areas of the country, people are into certain professions such as bangle making from generations. Hence there is a vicious cycle prevalent, where a child has to follow the footsteps of his father in his profession, from an early age.   The government can be instrumental in bringing light to the lives of children in the country. It has taken steps in the eradication of child labour in the form of National Child Labour Projects (NCLP). The programme, addressing children rescued from hazardous labour and centrally managed by the Ministry of Labour (MoL) includes the establishment of special schools to provide children with the skills they need to be mainstreamed into the formal system, vocational training, supplementary nutrition, health services etc.  In January 2005, the National Child labour Projects scheme had been expanded to 250 districts in 21 different Indian states, covering 42 per cent of all districts of the country (2001 Census).

The World Day Against Child Labour (WDACL ), is observed  on 12 June every year, this day should act as a motivating factor for us to understand the severity of the problem of child labour. The Government has allocated Rs 602 crores for eliminating child labour, but it is up to us to tackle this problem around us from the ground level.  Child labour is a problem which cannot be neglected, it has to be addressed.

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