Childhood is considered to be the golden period of one life but this doesn’t hold true for some children who struggle to make their both ends meet during their childhood years. At a tender age, which is supposed to be an age of playing and going to school, some children are compelled to work in factories, industries, offices or as domestic help. Child labour means employment of children in any kind of work that hampers their physical and mental development, deprives them of their basic educational and recreational requirements. According to 2011 census, 10.2 million children are engaged in work in India, out of which 4.5 million are girls. It is a blot on our society and speaks volumes about the inability of our society to provide a congenial environment for the growth and development of the children.
Earlier, the children used to help their parents in agricultural practices such as sowing, harvesting, reaping and taking care of cattle etc. But industrialisation and urbanisation have in a way encouraged child labour. Children are employed in hazardous work such as bidi rolling, cracker industry, pencil, matchbox and bangle making industries etc. In the bidi industry, children are expected to perform all the chores of rolling, binding and closing the ends of bidis using their nimble fingers. The cracker industry poses threat to the lives of the children due to their direct exposure to the explosive material. The bangle and pencil making industries make the child susceptible to different respiratory problems and lung cancer, in the worst cases. Besides, children are employed in leather, jewellery and sericulture industry.
A number of other factors could be attributed to the rise of this menace. In the poor and lower strata families, children are considered to be an extra earning hand. Some of these families have a convoluted idea that every child is an earner so, they have more number of children. The children are expected to shoulder their parents’ responsibilities. Parental illiteracy is also one of the contributors to this problem. Education tends to take a backseat in the lives of these children. The uneducated parents consider education as an expensive luxury in comparison to the income or returns which they get in the form of earning of their children. The child labourers are subjected to unhygienic conditions, late working hours and different atrocities which have a direct effect on their cognitive development. The young and immature mind of the children finds it difficult to cope with such situations leading to problematic emotional and physical problems. Employers also prefer child labourers in comparison to adults, because they can pay much lesser amount and get more work and it is much easier to bully or entice the child with physical threats and small rewards. Bonded child labour is one of the worst forms of child labour. In this, the children are made to work in order to pay off a loan or debt of the family. Bonded labour has resulted into trafficking of the children from rural to urban areas in order to work as domestic helps or in small production houses or just lead the life of street beggars.
The government has an important role to play in this fight against child labour. As poverty is one of the major causes of child labour in India, the government needs to ensure that it provides basic amenities to all its citizens and there is a reasonable and fair distribution of wealth. It needs to generate sufficient jobs to ensure employability to the poor. At the same time, NGOs can provide vocational training to people in order to get them goods jobs or to make them self-employed. The government, in collaboration with NGOs, should reach out to the poor people to make them understand the importance of education. They should be made aware of the government’s initiative to provide free education to all the children in the age group of 6-14 years. The parents must be encouraged to send their children to schools instead of work places.
To prohibit the child labour in India Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi took an initiative. He is the founder of Bachpan Bachao Aandolan (BBA), an organisation dedicated towards the eradication of child labour and rehabilitation of the rescued former child workers. The former President Pranab Mukherjee launched a “100 million for 100 million” campaign, that was conceptualized by Noble Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, to end child labour, child slavery, violence against children etc.
Educated citizens can contribute significantly in spreading the word about the harmful effects of child labour. High income group families can pool in funds to support the education of poor children. Schools and colleges can come up with innovative teaching programmes for the poor children . The principal of ‘Each one, teach one’ can be followed. Children of the support staff (peons, clerks etc.) of schools and colleges can offered free education.
The Indian Government enacted many laws to protect child rights, namely the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, the Factories Act, 1948, the Mines Act, 1952, the bonded Labour System Abolition Act and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. Most of these Acts prohibit the employment of children below the age of 14 years in factories, hazardous occupations or in bondage. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 mandates free and compulsory education to all children in the age group of 6 to 14 years. Apart from this, it also reserves 25 per cent seats in every private school for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of the society.
The National Policy on Child Labour, 1987 looks into the rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations. Article 39 of the Indian Constitution declares the duty of the state to provide the children the facilities to develop in a healthy and congenial environment and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In May 2015, the government approved a proposal allowing children below 14 years of age to work in family enterprises or entertainment industry with specific conditions. Key international laws dealing with child labour include the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989 and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions on the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment of 1973 and on the Worst Forms of Child Labour of 1999. Indian government has ratified both the ILO Conventions which deals with the minimum age for admission to employment and with prohibition of the worst forms of child labour. In July 2016, the Parliament has passed the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2016. This Act amends the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, by widening its scope against child labour and provides for stricter punishment for violations. This Act completely banned employment of children under 14 years in certain occupations like bidi-making, mines, powerlooms, domestic work etc and also provides for the rehabilitation of children.
But there should be a total ban on the employment of small children in any activity other than going to school and getting educated. The government needs to ensure that it has foolproof laws and they are properly implemented and executed. Strict measures need to be taken against those who encourage child labour in any form. Children are the future of a country and it is the childhood which has a profound impact on the future of a child. So, it becomes the collective responsibility of the citizens, society and the government to provide them an environment which helps them to bring out the best of their capabilities, thus empowering them to participate in the nation building process. A nation full of poverty ridden illiterate children cannot make progress. It should be the collective responsibility of the society and the government to provide children with healthy and conducive environment which will help them to develop their innate capabilities and use their skills effectively.
The need of the hour is to expand the machinery for enforcing the various laws on the child labour. If child labour is to be eradicated from India, the government and those responsible for the enforcement need to do their jobs sincerely. Success can be achieved only through social engineering on a major scale combined with broad based economic growth.