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Child labor is a problem that is experienced globally but not acknowledged by most. What is Child labor? The simplest definition is young lives being forced into labor work for the worst wages and no rights. Every minute there are about 2000 children who are doing some kind of forced labor work (Parker, Overby, 2005). According to the international labor organization Child labor has its presence from household works to works classified as hazardous. About 95% of the total child labourers in the world are in the developing countries (Parker, Overby, 2005) and about 150 million Child labourers are found in Asia. One country which forms a good part of the 150 million is India (Parker, Overby, 2005) which has been experiencing child labor for ages.
India is one of the most developing countries in the world and on account of this it is undergoing tremendous economic and industrial growth. As a result of the growth it is also creating a huge economic divide in the society and one issue India is failing to address is the growth in increasing the number of child labours in the country. There are more than 15 million active child labourers in India. This brings a rush of questions in my mind such as, why is Child labor present in India? Why is India experiencing such high numbers of child labourers, what is India doing to address this issue? The answers to these questions are discussed in the paper.
Reasons of Existence:
Being a developing country India has a lot of employment opportunities and it also inhabits a large number of people. This should make one wonder why Child labor is facilitating to such a wide extent in India. It's extremely easy to answer this question. Companies, especially one's with a small capital like the carpet, silk and silver industries, prefer children because Child labor is very cheap compared to adult labor. On an average an employer saves about two third of his total expenses on salaries if he has a child working (Tucker, 1997).For example "Twelve-year-oldRajuwas pledged at the age of eight in exchange for a 1,500 rupee loan. He rolled 1,000 beedies a day, for which he earned six rupees. The government-established minimum wage for rolling beedi in Tamil Nadu is 30.90 rupees per thousand beedies.After paying Raju his six rupees, then, the agent cleared a minimum of twenty-five rupees of labor-cost savingsevery day, enough to compensate him for the original loan in a mere two months. Instead, Raju worked for the agent for four years, netting his employer about 40,000 rupees in the process."(Tucker, 1997) The second reason is that children are unaware of their rights. Some industries in India go to the extent of specifying their preference not only to children but girl child because girls are extremely easy to be controlled and do not create a problem in the work space (Tucker, 1997).
Child labor has been rooted deeply into the Indian history through traditions and castes. India still follows the age old relationship of worker and employer (Tucker, 1997). This system gives the employer advantage over the worker and his actions are not governed either. For example the amount wage the employer pays the worker solely depends on the employer and cannot be questioned. The caste system in India could be held responsible for the origin of child labor and its long term existence in the county too, which is evident from the fact that about 80% of the total child labourers in India are dalits (Tucker, 1997) who are the low cast people. During the pre independence period the dalits and their children were treated as untouchables, abused, forced to do all the degrading jobs and without equal opportunities as other castes and until this date the same scenario is present in some places of the country.
Child Labor is directly related to poverty. The simplest way to explain this is that Children are forced to work because they are poor and not able to sustain without any money. India experiences widespread presence of poverty and thus the number of Child laborers is also high. Children who have no one to take care of them are forced to look for ways to sustain themselves and in the process of doing so they end up either on the wrong side of the society or as bonded laborers (Tucker, 1997) Sometimes even their own parents force them to work jobs because the parents are finding it difficult to earn enough to feed the family. The most horrifying act one gets to see in India is the selling of children as bonded labourers as a repayment of the debt taken by the parents, for example a boy named Papu who claimed he was seven but did not look that old said "He worked eleven hours a day, for which he earned two rupees. He knew that his father received some money when Papu was first taken to the master, but he did not know how much it was" (Tucker, 1997).
The worst part of Child labor is that the Children are usually forced to live and work under the worst working conditions, and these unhealthy, unsafe, dangerous, and poisonous work environments cause physical deformations and long-term health care problems in children (Arat, 2002). As seen in the case of Sumathi, a twelve year old girl who said "My father and mother force me to go to work with the agent. The agent often beats me. If I tell my father, he allows me to stay home the following day, but then they are pushing me to go again. My father and mother say I have to go. I don't want to go. I am afraid of my agent" (Tucker, 1997). But my parents force me to go, if I don't go they scold me and beat me. How can a twelve year old girl deal with this trauma? Which government has legalised physical assault? The answer always remains none. This leads to the next concern.
Failure Of Governing Bodies:
The problem of Child Labor is much worse than one can describe. It is extremely difficult to digest the fact that although the government is aware of the problem there is very little it has done to find an end to its spread. The government of India not only fails to abide by the international laws governing Children but also fails to make sure their own laws are being followed. To make sure that the children of the country have their rights the government of India has implemented a number acts and laws such as The Bonded Labor System (Abolition) act which was passed in 1976() which freed all bonded labourers and henceforth made bonded labor illegal. There are few more acts like these which were passed but ultimately these laws are being broken openly in India and the government is not willing to make sure that the perpetrators are punished. It's not only the domestic body but interference of international bodies like the IMF and the World Bank also facilitates Child labor (Arat, 2002). For example The World Bank was supplying huge amounts of money to facilitate the silk production in Industries in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka where most of the workers were Children (Arat, 2002). The bank had failed to monitor the laws and was eventually sponsoring Child labor. It's this lenient governance of the government and selfish motives of the organizations that is deteriorating the condition to a larger extent.
Another issue the government fails to address on a widespread scale is the high illiteracy rate. Although the law states that every Child Between 5 to 14 years of age must receive primary education (Govt of India) the overall literacy rate of India is 41% (Tucker, 1997) which means that 49% of the Indian population has not even received their primary education. The literacy problem directly correlates to child labor, like if a Child is unable to receive education he has no other option but look for jobs and according to his education he ends up with the low paying and is never able get over the poverty line. The government of India has now prepared for an alternative to primary education for Children by starting non-formal training schools (Govt of India). Although these schools provide students with knowledge in their respective fields they do not free the Children from degrading work the children are forced to do. In a way they actually are contradicting their own law of compulsory primary education. Along with the government the parents of the children also can be responsible for the children being deprived education and forced to work. For instance Pomabhai a twelve year old boy was taken out of school and forced to work in a silk mill when his father took a 4,500 rupee loan for the marriage of his oldest daughter (Tucker, 1997). Pomabhai says that he wants to continue his education but first he has to eat (Tucker, 1997). It is extremely disturbing and depressing to see young lives facing so many hardships for no fault of their own.Better Late Than Never:
Although the government has been extremely late to comprehend the seriousness of Child labor, it has started taking initiatives to bring a significant change in the number of child laborers by starting a number of programs. Government has started a national child labor project. "This is the major scheme for rehabilitation of child labor. Under the scheme, Project Societies at the district level are fully funded for the opening up of special school/rehabilitation centres for the rehabilitation of child laborers. The special schools provide non-formal education, vocational training, supplementary nutrition, stipend etc. to children withdrawn from employment" (Govt of India, 2006). A few facilities provided in the scheme are as follows.
- "Skilled/craft training
- Non-Formal/formal education
- Supplementary nutrition at Rs. 5/- per child per day
- Stipend of Rs. 100/- per child per month
- Health care facilities through a doctor appointed for a group of 20 schools." (Govt of India, 2006)
A few other schemes implemented by the international bodies and foreign governments in collaboration with the Indian government are International Program on Child Labor (IPCL), Indo Us Child Labor project (INDUS). Both the schemes are concentrated on eliminating poverty from its roots. PEC-India has, during the period 1992-2002, supported over 165 Action Programmes. "The Govt. of India and the US Department of Labour have also initiated a US$ 40 million project aimed at eliminating child labour in 10 hazardous sectors across 21 districts in five States namely, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi" (Govt of India, 2006).This project, popularly known as INDUS, is being implemented by the International labor organization (ILO) and the Governments of India and USA.An estimated 80,000 children will be withdrawn and rehabilitated through this project Financial support will also be directed to 10,000 families of former child workers (Govt of India, 2006). A few clauses of the INDUS project are as follows
- "Identifying children working in hazardous occupations by means of a detailed survey.
- Withdrawing children in the age group 8-14 from hazardous occupations and providing them meaningful transitional education.
- Making provision for systematic Vocational education/training of adolescents.
- Providing viable income generating alternatives for families of children withdrawn from work.
- Strengthening public education of child workers (to be implemented through the Department of Education, MHRD)
- Social mobilization.
- Capacity building of National/ State and Local Institutions
- Raising interest towards Action against Hazardous Child Labour in other States". (Govt of India, 2006)
Possible Cure to the disease:
The only possible solution the government and the people have found as a long term remedy to Child Labor is education. The most adversely affected states in India like Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal are experiencing a good number of schemes on a local level. "The instrumental role of formal schooling in providing qualifications that are necessary for social and economic mobility, opportunity, and status operates as global common-sense not only among the aspiring middle class and the educated elite, but also among the poor in whose lives schooling has ironically become self-evident because of their historic denial from it."(Balgopalan, 2008) Cities like Calcutta which has one of the highest populations of Child Labourers has signs put on its streets asking citizens to report any children between the ages 6-14 for formal schooling (Balgopalan, 2008). But all these efforts are going in vain because the dropout rate is very high. The reason is that parents still prefer sending students to work instead of school. Although education as solution to eradicate Child labor is not giving the desired results it is one remedy on which India can depend for complete and permanent relief from child labor. So policies which will enhance education in these classes should not stop.
India has been experiencing drastic problems of Child Labor for ages. Child Labor has been rooted deeply into the Indian society through traditions and history. India alone harbors about 15 million of the 550 million Child labors in Asia (Parker, Overby, 2005). Children of ages 5 years are forced to do hard labor jobs in various factories like silk, carpet and cigarettes. Illiteracy is one of the biggest reasons Child labor exists in India. Children are denied education and their rights and they are even abused and harassed at work. Although the Government of India has made some initiatives to overcome the situation it has failed to access the public on a larger scale and find a definite end to the problem. Education which forms the only accessible solution to end Child labor is failing and not serving its whole purpose. India is certainly making progress to put an end to Child labor but to date there is no significant improvement in the lives of the less fortunate children who spend the best days of their lives 'The Youth' being bonded to work and physical exploitation.
- Arat, Z. F. (2002). Analyzing Child Labor as a Human Rights Issue: Its Causes, Aggravating Policies, and Alternative proposals Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Feb., 2002), pp. 177-204, 24(1), 177-204
- Balagopalan, S. (2008). Memories Of Tomorrow: Children, Labor. The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, 1(2), 267-287.
- Child Labour. (2006). Retrieved November 08, 2009 from Govt of India Ministry of Labour: http://www.labour.nic.in.
- Parker, D. L., & Overby, M. (2005). Child Labor: Public Health Reports, Vol. 120, No. 6, Hazardous pp. pp 586-588. Washington DC: Association of Schools of Public Health.
- Tucker, L. (1997). Child Slaves in Modern India: The Bonded Labor Problem. Human Rights Quarterly 19.3 (1997), 31, 572-629.