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India’s Child Labour:THE PROBLEM AND ITS SOLUTION,T.D. Jagadesan, 22 November 2006 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 22 November 2006

India’s Child Labour


By T.D. Jagadesan

Child labour is one of the major problems of the world.  According to the International Labour Organisation, almost one billion children are working as child labour for their survival. As per the report published by the Department of Labour in the U.S., India has the largest number of children working as labourer (paid or unpaid), throwing their precious childhood to toil almost for 12 hours everyday on an average, at a very early age.

In 1985 the issue of child labour in India attracted public attention and debate; it has become the focus of major concern in the aftermath of globalization in 1991: “Child” is defined by the Constitution of India (Article 24) as anyone below the age of 14 years.  According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 1) it is anyone below the age of 18 years.

As per the Indian Constitution, no child below 14 years of age shall be employed to work in any factory of any hazardous employment (Article 24).  “Childhood and growth are to be protected against exploitation and moral and material abandonment” (Article 39f) and “The state shall endeavour to provide free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years” (Article 45)

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was enacted in 1986.  As per the Act, “Child means a person who has not completed 14 years of age. The Act regulates the condition of employment in all occupations and processes not prohibited under the Act.

The Act prohibits employment of children in 13 occupations and 57 processes contained in the Act. Any person who employs any child in contravention of the provisions of the Act is liable for punishment with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three months but which may extend to one year or with fine not be less than Rs.10,000/- but which may extend to Rs.20,000/- or both.

The National Policy on Child Labour (NCLP) was framed in August, 1987.  This policy contains the plan for solving the problem of child labour.  The NCLP started a scheme in 1988 to rehabilitate child labour.  Under the scheme, after a survey of child labour engaged in hazardous occupation and processes has been conducted. Children are to be withdrawn from these occupations and then put into special schools in order to enable them to be mainstreamed into formal schooling system.

Data provided by the National Sample Survey depicts child labour as 3.8 per cent in 1999-2000, while according to Census data it was 53 per cent in 1991.  Interpretation of data from NFHS (National Family Health Survey) on all-India basis shows that incidence of child labour in rural areas is 4 per cent in comparison to urban areas, which has 1.7 per cent. Some States have higher rate of incidence in rural areas.  These are Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Mdahya Pradesh, Rajasthan. Karnataka, Orissa, Assam, Andhra Pradesh were found to be leading in child labour in urban area.

The number of child labour is on the rise in India.  Most of the social scientists argued and accepted that prima facie this trend is associated with poverty and illiteracy.  Some other factor are: large families with only one working parent or adult; migration; it can be by force or in look out for work and employment; traditional family occupation; ineffective law enforcement; and wage structure of adult workers.

It is a shame that almost less than half of India’s children between the age of six and fourteen, that is 82.2 million, are not where they should be in school. Most of them stay back at home either to work, or to attend to cattle, younger siblings and working in fields.

The survey conducted and data collected by the N.F.H.S. (National Family Health Survey) shows that the poverty alone is not responsible for children to be indoctrinated as labourers.  Around 50.84 per cent of child labour belongs to low standard of living category, while 42.74 per cent belong to the medium standard of living category at all India level.

Child labourers are divided in four major sectors. These are: cultivators, agricultural labourers, manufacturing in household industries and others which includes construction workers etc.  At the national level, most of the child labour involved in an unorgnaised sectors where these children are losing their childhood.

Census data 1991 shows that child labour is concentrated in agricultural sectors constituting around 78 per cent of boys and 83 per cent of girls as cultivators and agricultural labourers.  Child labour employed in intrinsically hazardous occupation handling dangerous chemicals, equipment which may lead to burn or damage of limbs as handling explosive in fire work factories, match-making factories.

A decision has been taken on the recommendation of the Technical Advisory Committee on child labour, headed by the Director General, ICMR, that the children employed in roadside eateries and highway dhabas were the most vulnerable lot and were easy prey to sex and drug abuse as they come in contact with all kinds of people.

Regular exhaustive studies should be undertaken.  Baseline survey should be conducted so that they may help in research work while in turn form a reliable data bank upon which planners and policy makers can rely and thus can formulate programmes and policies to not only obliterate child labour but can work out plans for the growth and development of children of our country.

Voluntary organizations should also be roped in by forming an apex body comprising of government authority and incorporating voluntary organizations working in these fields. Members of management, trade unions can be involved to seek solutions to the problems of labours.

Above all, the Government and legal machinery should evaluate and monitor all progarmmes initiated by the Government pertaining to children; they ensure that the children should be benefited by these programmes, its enforceability and utilization. The need of the hour is to attract public attention, to involve everybody in this fight against child labour use and to make child labour a matter of public concern by giving impetus to the cases highlighting action against child labour.

Mass media, print media and electronic media should also play an important role in bringing back the lost childhood of child labour and to create awareness so that no child falls in this quagmire. We need to get down to action, creating a new version for the children for whom we are responsible and who look up to us with hope. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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