By Vaibhav Kathuria:
Childhood is one of the most fun-filled and unique periods 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, water and soil for its healthy growth. A nice and caring childhood with the right opportunities, the right guidance and the right nutrition can create 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 liabilities, especially in the economically- weaker sections of society. Children are made to 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 estimated 10.1 million children engaged in some form of work, India has the largest number of child labourers under the age of 14 in the world. The disparity in the country is so glaring that while, on one hand, children throw tantrums to get food at McDonalds – on the other, they 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 export-oriented hazardous industries like carpet weaving, gem polishing, glass blowing, match works, brass-ware, electro-plating, lead mining, stone quarrying, lock making and beedi rolling. Children are also employed in firework factories where, in addition to getting robbed off their childhood, they are also likely to be robbed of their eyesight. Thousands of children work as bonded labour in India’s silk industry and the government is not able to do anything to protect their rights.
Human rights organisations are asking 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% of child labourers in India are hard-to-reach, invisible and excluded, because 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 against child labour, we remain silent. We see children working along the roadside, in food stands, 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 called 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 rural areas of the country, people have followed certain professions (such as bangle making) for generations. Hence, there is this vicious cycle where children have to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors from an early age.
The government can play an instrumental role in bringing light to the lives of these children. It has taken steps to eradicate child labour through the National Child Labour Projects (NCLP). The programme, which helps children rescued from hazardous labour, is centrally managed by the Ministry of Labour (MoL). The programme provides for the establishment of special schools to provide children with skills they need to be accepted in the mainstream, vocational training, supplementary nutrition, health services, etc. By January 2005, the NCLP scheme had been expanded to 250 districts in 21 different Indian states, covering 42% of the districts of the country.
The World Day Against Child Labour (WDACL), is observed on June 12 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 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.
Featured image for representative purposes only.