Child labor has been a constant menace plaguing Indian society for centuries. As the Indian economy develops at a dramatic pace to become one of the world’s future economic superpowers, it is becoming extremely important to protect the future generation of this country, which are undoubtedly the children. Child labor holds a disgusting picture in today’s India. India tops the list in the world of having the highest number of child laborers, under the age of 14, of about 100-150 million out of which at least 44 million are engaged in hazardous jobs (Larson, 2004). Even though the Indian Constitution prohibits children younger than 14 to be employed in any occupation or hazardous environment, child labor exists in this country (Ram, 2009). They often work for long hours in hazardous and unhygienic environment and receive meager pay (Forastieri, 2002). These young children deserve to be educated and benefit from their childhood rather than work at early age and face abuse. The Indian government should enforce their law of prohibiting child labor to eliminate this problem. It is extremely important to tackle this menace if children’s rights are to be protected and a vibrant, mentally strong and educated youth is to be ensured for the future.
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To begin with, child labor is a gross violation of human rights. Firstly, it violates the constitutional law of India (Ram, 2009). Secondly, it also violates the UNICEF’S 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child whose article 32 “include[s] the child’s right to freedom from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development” (UNICEF, 2001, p. 6). Moreover, the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s Convention number 182 also aims at eliminating child labor (Fyfe, 2007). Due to the lack of enforcement of law by the Indian government, the 100 to 150 million children are not getting the national and universal human rights they are entitled to.
When the thought of childhood comes to our mind, images like children playing and running around in school uniforms emerge. However for child laborers in India, its images of factory smoke, wounded fingers, and abuse that emerge. These children work for long hours inhaling smoke, working with dangerous machines, and facing abusive employers. The labor market in which these children work, the “[labor] supply exceeds demand, and, therefore, they lack bargaining power with the balance always tilted in favor of the employers leading to exploitation” (Mishra, 2000, p. 56). Also, since children are more vulnerable compared to adults and in weaker positions to negotiate, they face further mistreatment, abuse and get paid less. Some are even abducted, sold into labor and are forced into servitude with no hope of getting out (Schmitz, Traver, & Larson, 2004).
When children start working at such a young age and undergo through the above mentioned abuses and economic exploitation, it negatively affects their emotional and physical capabilities (Larson, 2004). In one case, a 10 year-old girl named Mina had her fingers almost worn to the bone because of working many hours rolling cigarettes for a ‘beedi’ (rolled cigarettes) company (Larson, 2004). In the same ‘beedi’ industry, another girl narrated that her work was not only hard but it was also painful for her to sit and continue for hours without any break to achieve her target of 3000 beedis per day, for a meager wage of 3 rupees per day. Surprisingly, an adult can hardly make 2500 beedis in the same time (Mishra, 2000).
In “Child Labour in India,” Mishra (2000) mentioned a disheartening case of a 12-year old boy in a matchbox factory. The boy complained that his employer would beat him for minor mistakes and insult his parents in a filthy language which would cause him a lot of pain since it was no fault of theirs. He also said:
My employer used to put a match box on my neck in order to bend it down sufficiently to concentrate on the work. This prevented me from raising and turning my head on either side. I was beaten several times by him for having raised and turned my head. The turning of my head was very well indicated by the fall of the match box from my neck. Sometimes he beats me with the help of a wire in an unkind manner. (p. 71)
Companies find it profitable to use child labor because it helps them produce at lower costs and the innocent children can be trained to do dangerous work under unsafe and unsatisfactory conditions. Many children in India who are child laborers work in industries such as glass-blowing, matchsticks, fireworks and also the carpet-making industry (Larson, 2004). An example of the terrible working conditions can be seen in the fireworks industry. Factories labeled as ‘D’ grade are legally binded not to employ more than 22 people in their factory. However, many of such factories employ around 20 to 150 people, including children! The ‘D’ graded match box factories are legally allowed to produce at most 80 units of matchboxes but they produce upto 100 to 300 units (Mishra, 2000). These firms are breaking legal rules and the Indian government should step in to enforce their laws.
Poverty-stricken parents in India who borrow loans often give their children to their debtor so that he can exploit the children by making them work and help in paying off the debt. The meager pay these children receive is not enough to cover up the amount of money to be repaid for the loan. In addition to this, the interest on the loan keeps increasing, which increases the repayment amount, and then the working child takes many years to pay off the debt (Larson, 2004).
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It is often pointed out that child labor helps pull people out of poverty by offering a source of income and survival for a poor family (Larson, 2004). However, this ‘income’ comes at a huge cost as they are abused for work which affects their present and future life. An example can be seen above in the way children are abused as ‘collateral’ for loans. The constant abuse child laborers have to go through in exchange for a small amount of income makes their life not worth living.It does not make much of a difference whether the child is earning money while working in a hazardous job or not, since every type of work involves a degree of stress. Hazardous work “cripples the health, psyche, and personality of a child,” and non-hazardous work causes forms of deprivation “such as denial of access to education and denial of the pleasurable activities associated with childhood” (Mishra, 2000, p. 14). Therefore, the child laborer who is working at a young age to earn some amount of income for his family also does not get educated, which makes him unfit to grow up and get a well paid, decent job in the future. Child labor can even start a cycle as an uneducated illiterate parent will also start sending his young child to work as a child laborer, who in turn will also grow up uneducated, and use his child also as a source of income. Therefore, the Indian government should make an effort to enforce their child labor law in order to save these children, break this vicious cycle and protect its future generations.
Having a formal education is the birth right of every child in this world. But child labor has stolen this right from these 44 million children. These children in India who are involved in child labor are not able to have time to go to school due to the intense and long working hours. According to the International Labour Organization’s report, “Child labour leads to reduced primary school enrolment and negatively affects literacy rates among youth” (ILO, 2008). The report also found strong evidence that in a situation where school and work was combined, school attendance falls as the number of hours at work increases (ILO, 2008). This goes on to prove that working children in India involved in labor struggle to attend school due to their harsh and exploitive working hours which causes them continuous fatigue. As India has the highest level of child labor in the world, it is due to this reason that India’s rank in the Education Development Index (EDI) is a disappointing 102nd out of the 129 countries in the index (UNESCO, 2009). The EDI measures a country’s performance on universal primary education. High level of child labor in a country is often related with its low and unsatisfactory performance on the index (ILO, 2008). The Indian government should start enforcing their law against child labor so that these children can go to school easily.
A working child also often gets deprived of having a bright and lively childhood due to lack of leisure activities. In a research conducted by Dr. D.V.P Raja, Founder and Director of the Madurai Institute of Social Sciences in India, more than 90% of the working children who were interviewed “stated that they do not have enough leisure to play and engage in other recreational activities. This startling finding signifies that these children spend virtually all their waking hours working and are thereby totally denied any of the excitement and pleasures of childhood” (Mishra, 2000, p. 48). The interviewees also stated that while at work, they did not acquire or learn any new skills. This goes on to say that the impact of child labor on the development and creative side of the child is quite disturbing. These children do not find their work enjoyable but rather than that they find it difficult and boring; but, however, they still continue to stick with these jobs because they don’t have a choice nor do they find any other suitable alternative for them (Mishra, 2000). The government of India should now wake up and save these children before more of them become victims of a lost childhood.
The problem of child labor has done enough damage to the lives and health of many innocent children in India over centuries by stealing away their many rights. It is now evident that child laborers are heavily losing out on all fronts and are becoming terribly incompetent to live future life as child labor negatively affects their mental, emotional and psychological capabilities .Child labor should be brought to an end now. It is high time that the Indian government starts taking this issue seriously and starts enforcing its own constitutional law against child labor so that India’s present and future generation of young citizens have their rights protected and are able to live their lives healthy and secure.
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