Children constitute 36 per cent of India’s population and it is a national shame that bulk of them still suffer from malnutrition, poverty, disease, cruel exploitation through forced child labour and beggary and on top of all, illiteracy.
Hundreds of thousands of children roam the streets without homes or families to go back to and you can see them in plenty in the streets. Is it not a matter of monumental shame that of the 30 million street children worldwide, 11 million are in India, leading a wretched life, ill-clad and hungry, sleeping on the pavements, picking rags, begging or allowing themselves to be exploited in different trades or occupations. Much against their wishes street children are also dragged into the Mafia underworld as drug pushers.
They are shunned by all-parents, society and government. Huge sums are spent every year in Indian and at international meets to focus on the plight of the child, but millions of children still continue to live a miserable life. The only care they get is to ones of lip-sympathy.
One of the worst forms of child exploitation is child labour and India has the largest number of child labourers in the world-one-third of those under the age of 16 are forced to work, often in the most dreadful conditions. Many children have to work for long hours and are physically abused.
As many as 73 million children representing 13 per cent of the child population in the 10-14 years of age group are working in all kinds of jobs in different parts of the world. Even this figure might be a gross underestimate, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Do we have the statistics of the number of working children who are less than ten years and the number of girls engaged in full-time domestic work?
In sheer magnitude of numbers, Asia tops the list with 44.6 million children at work followed by Africa with 23.6 million and Latin America with 5.1 million. The ILO report estimates that 14.4 per cent of children in the age group of 10-14 years work in India while the figure is put at 11.6 per cent in the case of China. But even these figures might be giving only a part of child labourers might be around 17 million; NGOs claim it could be in the vicinity of 20 million.
Thanks to legislation and the adoption of various ILO conventions, child labour is almost non-existent in the child labour organised industry, but its most violent and heinous and exploitative form could be seen in the unorganised sector such as match factories, fireworks industries, hand-woven carpet industries, glass industries, bidi manufacturing, etc.
Constitution of India decrees against the exploitation of children in the form of child labour. But the evil thrives, despite the fact that child labour is economically unsound, psychologically disastrous and ethically wrong.
Nearly 87 per cent of the child workers are the rural areas working on farms, plantations, fisheries and cottage industries. Though primary education is free and compulsory, a larger number of children do not go to school because they have work at home. Rural India is again caught in a vicious cycle.
The rural poor families have more children; they don’t feel the pinch of feeding more mouths since more children mean more labourers to keep the hearth glowing. Child labour is necessary for the poor family’s survival, but the crux of the problem is that child labour is not desirable in the interest of either the family or society.
Most children working full-time are unable to either attend school or to progress adequately or acquire the type of human capital which allows them to have a fair chance in the labour market. Child labour creates a labour force which is ill- equipped in terms of skills to compete in today’s globalised economy.
Child labour also perpetuates the poverty in the general population, since the supply of child labour reduces the bargaining power of all workers, thereby depressing the wage rates of adults.