Now days, the complex and universal problem of child labor have become a “harsh reality” attracting worldwide attention. The prevalence of child labour is economically unsound, psychologically disastrous and physically as well as morally dangerous. No doubt, labour is worship but child labour in dangerous and a blot on the conscience of society. It is a sad affair that child labour is deprived of his youthful life, education and thus prospects of higher level of living. Child labour perpetuates poverty, it does not reduce it as it condemns one generation after another to its vicious circle. Child labour harms the progress and prosperity of a nation. Throwing light on this fact, John has rightly said, “Starve a child of food, of affection, of freedom, of education and you produce an adult who is stunted as an individual and holds back progress and development rather than accelerate it”.
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Our country is also facing this critical problem of child labor. A wide variation is seen in the estimation of child labor in country. According to 1971, 1981 and 1991 census of India, the number of working children accounted for 10.74 million, 13.60 million and 11.28 million respectively. The ORG has estimated that the number of child labor is closer to 44 million. According to U.N., 55% of the work force in India is made up of child labor. It is normally seen that employers do not always provide accurate data on child labor in order to safeguard themselves from legal hassles. It was pointed out in the World Conference on Children that the number of child labor in the world is about 25 crore, out of which the maximum number about 10 crore is found in India alone. It is estimated that about 7.5 crore are engaged in rural areas while remaining 2.5 crore are employed in urban areas. Alarmed at this critical problem, ILO has also estimated that India alone accounts for one fourth of total child labor of the world.
Childlabor is rampant across the country. Children can be seen working in agricultural fields, carpet and durri industries, biri, handicraft, match box, glass and bangle industries, in restaurants and as domestic servants. It is estimated that 30 per cent of child labor is engaged in agriculture and allied activities, 30 to 35 percent in industries and remaining are engaged in mining, tea gardens and hotels etc. These occupations are hazardous, causing severe physical damage to them and thus inhibiting their mental, moral and social development. These child laborers become prey to many fatal diseases, like T.B., Cancer, Asthma, lungs and skin related diseases. The sad plight of child labor is depicted by Sudha and Tiwari in these words,”It is really sad to note that children in most of the developing countries are living miserable, cheerless lives, toiling unendlessly to ward off starvation, totally deprived of all comforts and opportunities for self growth and development.”
Poverty, unemployment, traditional attitude, marginalization of farms, urbanization, lack of schools, reluctance of parents to send their children to schools are the factors responsible for the problem of child labour. In fact, poverty is seen as the major factor responsible for this problem. Poor parents hardly have time for their children because they are all the time struggling for bread and butter. They are not in a position to fulfill their responsibilities towards children. In reality, the children are supposed to be the extra earning hands, rather than extra mouths to feed. Children are made to work at a very young age. Emphasizing this factor, the report of the Committee on Child Labor commented, “Stronger than tradition is the factor of chronic poverty responsible for the prevalence and perpetuation of child labor”.
In poor families, the child, since his very appearance in this world, is endowed with an economic mission.The child is compelled to shed sweat of brow “to keep the wolf away from the door”. Large sized families are also held responsible for this problem. Again, most of the workers are engaged in non organized sector. The inadequacy of wages in this sector compels these workers to send their children on work to supplement their income. Availability of child labor at lower wages also motivates the employers to employ them. The employment of the child labor not only reduces the cost of production but also provides access to that labor which is unresisting and unorganized. As a result of this trend, the wages of other adult workers decline, adult unemployment increases and that paves way for the poverty. Nurse’s vicious circle of poverty explains the phenomenon of child labor clearly. Thus, child labor is an exploitation of child by the vested interests. On the one side, there is compulsion of poor parents and on the other side; the unresponsive attitude of specific industries is also responsible for this problem. The situation of child laborers in India is desperate. Children work for eight hours at a stretch with only a small break for meals. The meals are also frugal and the children are ill nourished. Most of the migrant children, who cannot go home, sleep at their work place, which is very bad for their health and development. Seventy five percent of Indian population still resides in rural areas and are very poor.
Children in rural families who are ailing with poverty perceive their children as an income generating resource to supplement the family income. Parents sacrifice their children’s education to fulfill the basic needs of their younger siblings and view them as wage earners for the entire family. Irrelevance of education in practical life is also considered an important factor for this problem. It is rightly pointed out, “A secondary reason for child labor is that many children choose to work because neither they nor their poverty stricken families see the point of acquiring an education which has little relevance to their lives and which moreover does not guarantee them a job. They prepare to undergo some kind of apprenticeship so that they can learn a skill and earn money at the same time”. These children are deprived of their childhood. The prospects of getting good education and good jobs become a distant dream for them. Thus, the parents, society and the state are responsible for this criminal injustice with the future citizens.
Children are flowers of our national garden they should be nurtured with love and affection so that; they grow into responsible and responsive citizens. Child labour has important demographic and social-economic implications for developing countries like India. Many provisions have been made in the constitution of the country to promote the welfare and development of children. Under Article 29 of the constitution, no child below the age of 14 can be deployed in any hazardous work. Article 23 prohibits forced labour. The chapter IV of theIndian constitution mentions specific directions related to the welfare of children. In Article 39, it is made obligatory for the states to formulate polices in such a way so that the healthy development of children can be ensured.
To safeguard the interests of these deprived children, various laws have been enacted in the country. Many legislations have been passed to prevent the employment of children in hazardous occupations and to improve their working conditions. Many policies have also been formulated for the healthy and balanced development of children. In the same way, there are important legislations which provide legal protection to child labour in India. Some of them are following:
1. Child (Pledging of labour). Act (Government of India, 1933)
2. The Employment of Children Act (Government of India, 1938)
3. The Minimum wages Act, 1948
4. The factories Act, 1948
5. The Plantation Labour Act, 1951
6. The Mines Act, 1952
7. The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958
8. The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961
9. The Apprentices Act, 1961
10. The Bedi and Cigar Workers Act, 1966
11. State Shops and Establishment Acts,
12. According to the National Policy for children, 1974, no child under 14 years can be
engaged in any hazardous occupation. It is also laid down in the policy that children
should be protected against neglect, cruelty and exploitation. Again, the Child Labour
(Prohibition and Regulation) Act was initialed in 1986 to ban children’s employment in
70 hazardous occupations. National Child Labour Project (NCLP) was also launched by
Labour Ministry in 1988 to rehabilitate working children. In Oct, 2006, the Government has passed legislation to ban the employment of children below 14 years in restaurants, hotels, tea-stalls, eateries and as domestic laborers.
India has also become a signatory to various international declarations and agreements to regulate the menace of child labour. So, it has become obligatory for the country to undertake the measures to eliminate the scourge of child labour which has assumed serious proportions in recent years. Many policies have been formulated for the healthy and balanced development of children. The Government has launched Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Mid Day Meal Scheme, Education Guarantee programme etc to bring the child labour under the umbrella of education. Non Governmental Organizations were also permitted to open residential schools for these children to bring them back to the mainstream of the society. Residential and special schools have also been setup for the education of child labor. In 2006 the Government has introduced Integrated Child Development services aimed at providing a package of services consisting of supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check up and education and non-formal education.
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In spite of adoption and implementation of various policies, laws and programmes by the government directly or indirectly, the problem of child labor is still staring at us. Due to ignorance, illiteracy and economic compulsions of the poor families, these laws are evaded at different places at different points of time. Weak enforcement machinery, little information related to child labor laws and peculiar socio-economic conditions are also the factors responsible for the avoidance of laws related to children. To check the problem of child labour, it is essential to eradicate the menace of poverty by improving agriculture sector, providing employment to unemployed hands at minimum wages, establishing agro-processing units in rural areas.
Stringent measures should also be taken to make employment generation and poverty eradication plans effective and successful and corruption free. In the same way, population control measures and other medical facilities must be provided to the poor section of the country. Adequate school facilities, provision of night schools, improvement in school environment and curricula of education can also contribute a lot in solving this critical problem. National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) should also ensure that rescued child labourers do not return to work. So every effort must be made for the repatriation of rescued child labourers to their native places.
Poverty, unemployment and illiteracy are the prime reasons responsible for this problem. So efforts must be made to eradicate these causes. Monetary incentives and income generating assets must be provided to poor families so that they are not compelled to send their children to work. It is essential to compensate the families of those children who are being withdrawn from work force. A strong socio-political environment must be achieved with the active cooperation of people, society, and non government organization. NGOs must motivate the parents to provide education, health care and skill development facilities to their children. Special schools may be set up for the child labor so they can acquire minimum qualifications. In the same way, specific strategies must be evolved keeping in mind the nature of work in which the child is currently engaged. Thus, a joint effort of government, NGOs and society is required to solve this critical problem. We should try to strike at the root cause of this critical problem. Efforts should be made to change the attitude and mindset of the people towards their children.
We should never forget that today’s children are tomorrow’s citizen. If this critical problem is not tackled urgently, we can well imagine the future of our country in the days to come.
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