Children are the future of society. Every child should get an equal chance to education and opportunities for livelihood, and no child should be deprived of their rights and liberties. Child labour is a major concern of the world as it affects children both mentally and physically. It is a serious issue in India as well as the world.
According to Census 2011, the number of child labourers in India, between the ages of 5-14, are 10.1 million, out of which 4.5 million are girls and 5.6 million are boys. Out of the total number of 152 million children between the ages of 5-17 globally, 86 million boys and 64 million girls are estimated to be child labourers. There are 22.87 million working children in India between the ages of 15-18 years. As per this record, one in every 11 children in India are working. Almost 80% of the issue of child labour is concentrated in India’s rural areas.
Before getting into it, let’s find out what is child labour?
Not all work done by children is considered child labour — work that doesn’t affect ac child’s health and personal development, or hamper their education, is regarded as constructive. This includes activities including helping parents at home, assisting in family business, and working to earn pocket money outside of school hours or during holidays. All these activities contribute towards children’s development.
The term child labour is used for work that deprives children of their childhood, dignity and potential, and which is harmful to their physical and mental development. Work that is mentally, physically, morally and socially dangerous for children and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of attending schools, forcing them to quit school prematurely or involving them in heavy or long work is considered child labour.
Despite the decreasing rates of child labour over the past few decades, children are still being used as some form of labour, such as bonded labourers, for trafficking within and outside India and as child soldiers. Across India, child labour can be found in different industries such as brick kilns, garment making, carpet weaving, domestic service (house help) and food and refreshment services such as at tea stalls, on farms, and for fishery and mining also. Several other forms of exploitation faced by children include sexual exploitation and production of child pornography.
There are several reasons that are responsible for an increasing occurrence of child labour, such as:
All these factors mentioned above are not only the cause of child labour, but also the consequences of social inequalities reinforced by discrimination.
Child labour is a major barrier to child’s education. It deprives children of their right to go to school and reinforces the intergenerational cycle of poverty. It also poses a threat to the national economy. Maximum child labourers are illiterate — while 45% of child labourers of Bihar are illiterate, states including Rajasthan and Jharkhand have 40% of their child labourers illiterate, and both Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have about 38% of illiterate child labourers.
According to a study by the ILO, a majority of the world’s child labour, i.e. almost 71% of them, are working in the agricultural sector, around 17% are working as domestic help in restaurants and houses, while the remaining 12% of the children are working in industrial sectors that include being exposed to risky and dangerous activities in the mining industry. Some of them also work in brick-making factories or for processing carpets. Some child labourers also sell cigarettes and tobacco.
In India, many child laborers are working for the starvation of wages in textile factories, helping on the street. Children are also used as cheap labour in the industries for gem polishing, carpet manufacturing and steel extraction. A large number of girl child labourers are victims of child trafficking. The commercial sexual exploitation of children is among the worst forms of child labour. Prostitution in India envelops the lives of around 1.2 million children.
The Indian Constitution provides laws against child labour, both in its Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy. Both the laws prohibit child labour below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine, or engage in any other hazardous employment (Article 24). By 1960, the Indian Constitution envisioned to provide infrastructure and resources for free and compulsory education to all children between the age of 6-14 years (Article 21-A and Article 45).
However, child labour continues for several reasons. People exploit the loopholes in the law that allows children to get employed or work in the family business. Thus, having children sell tobacco/cigarettes on streets can be considered legal, if it is part of their family business. Along with that, many influential and powerful people, because of their links with political leaders, get special liberties in these laws. And companies may not be interested in removing their cheap labour from their business.
However, child labour in family business remains acceptable, and with that, these laws can be twisted to make children from the age 15-18 years work. The law also doesn’t exclude activities such as field work, where children are exposed to pesticides and other harmful chemicals, and have to put laborious hours.
To ensure the strict enforcement of these laws, the Indian government is developing additional laws that would increase the punishment of the employer who appoints children under the age of 14 years as labour, the penalty amount of which would be collected as fine. The period of imprisonment is also likely to change.
A plethora of laws, Acts, institutions and organisations have been formed by the Indian government to combat the prominence of child labour from India. Several NGOs including ChildFund, Care India, Bachpan Bachao Andolon, Child Right & You, Talaash Association and Global March against Child Labour have been working to eradicate child labour in India.
Several steps have already been taken and the government is taking many more steps to reduce child labour in India. UNICEF is also working with the Central and state governments to eradicate child labour from the world. But a lot more needs to be done.
Child labour in our country has become a social norm that we all accept and tolerate in our society. This abusive and explorative practice will continue unless society adopts a zero-tolerance attitude towards it.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.