Children are always considered next to the pious versions of the Almighty who always strive to inculcate happiness, joy, innocence and hope. The future of a nation is determined by the way it treats its children and its women, after all, children imply a hope, a hope to strengthen not only the economy of the country, but also to provide the country with skilled human resources who have access to the basic amenities essential for the existence coupled with the tenets of the education in India.
It is the moral duty of every citizen for the country to ensure that the childhood of our children is protected and not marred with instances like that of child labour in India which arise out of poverty and helplessness.
Child labour typically means the employment of children in any manual work with or without payment. Child labour is not only limited to India, it happens to be a global phenomenon.
As far as India is concerned, the issue is a vicious one as children in India have historically been helping parents at their farms and other primitive activities. Another concept that needs explanation is the concept of bonded labour which is one of the most common forms of exploitation. Bonded labour means the children are forced to work as employees in lieu of payment of debt by the parents due to exorbitant rates of repayment of interest.
Also associated with the concept of bonded labour is the concept of urban child labour in India wherein the labouers are the street children who spend most of their childhood on the streets.
UNICEF has categorized child work into three categories:
1. Within the family- Children are engaged in domestic household tasks without pay.
2. Within the family but outside the home- Example- agricultural labourers, domestic maids, migrant labourers etc.
3. Outside the family- Example- commercial shops in restaurants and jobs, prostitution etc.
Child labors in India could be mainly classified into two categories of industrial, domestic and bonded child labors. Below we will go through the details of the mentioned Indian sectors employing children as labors along with the demographics.
1) Industrial Child Labor
Industrial sector in India is the largest employer of children below the legal age of 18. Approximately, over 10 Million children between the age group of 5 to 14 years are working in informal or small industries, including around 4.5 Million girls. Small enterprises like garment industry, brick kiln, agriculture, fireworks industries, diamond industries etc, constitute some of the largest employer of children. Sometimes such industries operate from homes, making it difficult for the authorities to take appropriate actions.
Unorganized sector in India is one of the largest employers of children and the most visible too. Children could be easily spotted, working in road side dhabas and eateries, tea shops or grocery stores. The owners of such small businesses prefer children as they are easy to handle and easy to fire.
2) Domestic Child Labor
Domestic child labors constitute 10% of the total child labors in India. They include both boys and girls domestically employed by wealthy families to look after their everyday chorus. Such children have no option but to serve the needs of other families in an age when they should be attending school and playing with friends. Poverty is the main factor behind children being employed as domestic help. Usually the parents give their consent in hope of money and a stable shelter for their children.
The statics reveal a grim picture – nearly 20% of all the domestic workers employed are below the age of 14 years and the figures include mainly girls. These children are employed as live in servants, doing daily chorus of the family like – washing, cooking, looking after pets or younger children and other works.
3) Bonded Child Labors
Bonded child labour means as a child who is employed forcibly to pay off a debt of his parents or a guardian. Though the numbers of bonded child labors have considerably declined in recent past due strict government supervision and laws banning it, it is silently followed in isolated and remote places.
Children residing in villages and employed in agriculture industry are more prone to this type of labor. Poor farmers owing large debts to money lenders, often get into an agreement to engage their siblings as labors to wealthy money lenders. There were thousands of bonded labors engaged in various industries, till the past decade, but today the numbers have reduced drastically, and the government claims that there are no more bonded child labors in India.
This is made possible due to laws banning child labor and a compulsory child education and by the joint efforts of UNICEF (United Nations Children Emergency Fund), NGOs and other relevant agencies.
Overburdened, debt-trapped parents fail to understand the importance of a normal childhood under the pressures of their own troubles and thus it leads to the poor emotional and mental balance of a child’s brain which is not prepared to undertake rigorous field or domestic tasks.
National and Multinational companies also recruit children in garment industries for more work and less pay which is absolutely unethical.
According to UNICEF children are employed because they can be easily exploited. By considering various causes of child labour, we can make a strategy to curb or eliminate child labour in India.
Causes of Child Labour in India
The main reason for child labour in India is poverty. Most of the country’s population suffers from poverty. Due to poverty, parents cannot afford the studies of their children and make them earn their wages from a tender age. In fact, they are well aware of the grief of losing their loved ones to poverty many times. They send their small children to work in factories, homes and shops. They are made to work to increase the income of their poor families at the earliest. These decisions are taken only for the purpose of eking out a living for their family. But such decisions shatter children’s physical and mental state as they lose their childhood at an early age.
Even after so many years of our country’s independence, there are instances where children are deprived of their fundamental right to education. There are thousands of villages in our country where there are no proper facilities of education. And if there is any, it is miles away. Such administrative laxity is also responsible for child labour in India. The worst sufferers are the poor families for whom getting their children educated is a dream.
Sometimes the lack of affordable school for the education of poor children leaves them illiterate and helpless. Children are forced to live without studying. And sometimes such compulsions push them into the trap of child labour in India.
Social and economic backwardness is also the main reason for child labour in India. Socially backward parents do not send their children to receive education. Consequently, their children are trapped in child labour. Due to illiteracy, many times parents are not aware of various information and schemes for child education. Lack of education, illiteracy and consequently the lack of awareness of their rights among them have encouraged child labour.
Also, uneducated parents do not know about the impact of child labour on their children. The conditions of poverty and unemployment give rural families a compulsive basis for engaging children in various tasks. In fact, feudal, zamindari system and its existing remnants continue to perpetuate the problem of child labour in India.
In many families, due to addiction, disease or disability, there is no earning, and the child’s wages are the sole means of family’s sustenance. Population growth is also increasing unemployment, which has adverse impact on child labour prevention. So, parents, instead of sending their children to school, are willing to send them to work to increase family income.
In modern society, laws stipulate that citizens have the right to receive good education, avail good health services and take care of their health. Every citizen has the right to play the game he enjoys, and enjoy all the means of entertainment, and when he grows, to obtain employment where he can earn well and contribute to society and nation. But in the absence of proper compliance of the laws, child labour in India is continuing. It can be prohibited only by strict adherence to the related laws.
In the greed of cheap labour, some shopkeepers, companies and factory owners employ children so that they have to pay less to them and it amounts to employing cheap labour. Shopkeepers and small businessmen make children work as much as they do to the elder ones, but pay half the wages. In the case of child labour, there is less chance for theft, greed or misappropriation of money too.
With the development of globalization, privatization, and consumerist culture, the need for cheap labour and its linkage with economic needs of poor families have encouraged child labour in India.
It is a shocking but a bitter truth that in our society it is very easy to give child labour the name of tradition or custom in many families. The cultural and traditional family values play their role in increasing the problem of child labour in India at the voluntary level. Many families believe that a good life is not their destiny, and the age-old tradition of labour is the only source of their earning and livelihood.
Small businessmen also waste the lives of their children in the greediness of perpetuating their family trade with lower production costs. Some families also believe that working from childhood onwards will make their children more diligent and worldly-wise in terms of future life. They believe that early employment will give rise to their children’s personal development, which will make it easier for them to plan their life ahead.
We have been conditioned into believing that girls are weaker and there is no equal comparison between boys and girls. Even today, in our society, we will find many examples where girls are deprived of studies. Considering girls weaker than boys deprives them of school and education. In labourer families, girls are found to be engaged in labour along with their parents.
Child labour is a serious hindrance to social and economical development of the nation. Children employed in various sectors fail to get necessary education, virtually forced to leading a life of hardship and poverty. It also affects the overall health of a child, as children get exhausted easily and are not physically fit to work for longer durations under difficult conditions.
Children employed in glass and fire cracker industries work not only for longer hours but also under hazardous conditions, seriously compromising their health. They are continuously exposed to toxic gases and substances leading to various skin and respiratory ailments.
Children who are forced into the labour industry are unable to fend for themselves and grow up as an individual who cannot productively contribute to the society. Moreover, for a nation’s economy to be progressive, it is imperative that its workforce is educated and skilled, to cater to different sectors; which is a distant reality as long as child labor exists.
As long as the children are employed as labors, India cannot successfully eradicate poverty and illiteracy. Sending children to schools instead of work could have large economical and social benefits in long run. Educated children acquire necessary skills and higher paying jobs, lifting them and the nation out of the clutches of poverty.
The problem of child labour in India had become an issue of concern for one and all post Independence. The drafting committee of the India constitution wanted to formulate laws on their own without seeking recommendations from other countries with this regard. Since, India had been under the exploitative regime of the British, it only made sense that the provisions were devised keeping in mind the forms of exploitative labour that India had witnessed under the atrocious regime.
The primitive laws that were formed to prohibit child labour in India were when the Employment of Children Act, 1938 was passed. But this act failed miserably because it failed to address the cause of poverty as it is poverty that drives children into forced labour.
The Indian Parliament time and again has passed Laws and Acts to ensure the protection of children from child labour in India. The Fundamental Rights enshrined in our Constitution prohibit child labour below the age of 14 years in any factor or mine or engaged in any hazardous employment under Article 24. Apart from this, it is also provided under Article 21-A that State shall provide infrastructure and resources for free and compulsory education for children of the age six upto 14 years.
There exists a set of laws which under the Constitution govern the protection of children from child labour. The Factories Act of 1948 prevents the employment of children below 14 years in any factory. The Mines Act of 1952 prohibits the employment of children below the age of 18 years. The Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 prevents the employment of children below the age of 14 years in life-threatening occupations identified in a list by the law. Further, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of children Act of 2000 made the employment of children a punishable offence.
Ironically, despite this huge array of laws, there seems to be no improvement in the working conditions of the child labourers and employers also freely flout the provisions of the Act covering the prohibition of child labour in India.
It needs to be highlighted that the violation of these provisions means a deprivation of the basic human rights and demeaning the childhood of the children. The law also isn’t very clear as to how where can the children work. The Acts covers only 10 percent of the total working children and thus not applicable to the unorganized sector.
The Act also exempts the family of the child labourer from its purview if they all are working with the same employee as that of the child. Although the Act prohibits the employment of children in certain hazardous industries and processes, it does not define what constitutes hazardous work. It only provides a list of hazardous occupations.
The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPECL) was launched under the programme of International Labour Organization in 1991 to work towards the elimination of child labour by creating awareness about child labour as a global issue using national platforms. India was among the first nations to sign the MOU with IPECL to help in combating child labour.
National Labour Project (NCLP) is one of the major programmes implemented throughout the country under which seven child labour projects were set up in the year 1988. Rehabilitation is also one of the major policies that have been adopted by the government of India to reduce the incidence of child labour in India.
Unfortunately, the concerned authorities are unable to combat the rising cases of child labour because of varied reasons. They fail to establish the correct age if the child due to the lack of birth proofs and at times fake proofs. Not much is being done on creating the awareness among people. Even if efforts are being made, they cater to a limited population and the endurance among the authorities is not visible. A lot of laxity can be observed during the conduct of awareness programmes. There is still a need to address the issue on global platforms time and again with stringent policy framework in place.
Abolition of child trafficking, elimination of poverty, free and compulsory education, and basic standards of living can reduce the problem to a great extent. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund can help in eradicating poverty by providing loan to the developing countries.
Strict implementation of labour laws is also essential in order to prevent exploitation by parties or multinational companies. Lot many amendments are required in the present child labour prohibition law in order to implement strict measures to control the situation. The minimum of age of fourteen years needs to be increased to at least eighteen. The list of hazardous activities which are present in the law needs to include more occupations which have been left out of the purview of the hazardous activities.
Let’s learn how to stop and solve the problem of child labour in India: