Childhood is the most innocent phase in human life. It is that stage of life when the human foundations are laid for a successful adult life. Many children, instead of spending it in a carefree and fun-loving manner while learning and playing, are scarred and tormented. They hate their childhood and would do anything to get out of the dungeons of being children and controlled and tortured by others. They would love to break-free from this world, but continue to be where they are, not out of choice, but force. This is the true story of child labor.
Innocent children are employed by industries and individuals who put them to work under grueling circumstances. They are made to work for long hours in dangerous factory units and sometimes made to carry load even heavier than their own body weight. Then there are individual households that hire children as domestic help and beat and physically torture them when they make a mistake. The children are at times made to starve and are given worn out clothes to wear. Such is the story of millions of children in India painful and yet true.
The two primary reasons for the ever-growing social malice of child labor are poverty and lack of education. Poor parents give birth to children thinking them as money-making machines. They carry infants to earn more on the streets from begging. Then as they grow they make them beggars, and eventually sell them to employers. This malady is rampant across the length and breadth of India.
According to the United Nations stipulation in article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Labor Organization, child labor is to be considered if “…States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected 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.”
In other words, child labor is any kind of work children are made to do that harms or exploits them physically, mentally, morally, or by preventing access to education. However, all work is not bad or exploitive for children. In fact, certain jobs help in enhancing the overall personality of the child. For example, children delivering newspapers prior to going to school or taking up light summer jobs that do not interfere with their school timings. When children are given pocket money earning oriented tasks, they understand the value of money, as well as respect it even more.
Child labor coupled with child abuse has today become one of the greatest maladies that have spread across the world. Each year statistics show increasing numbers of child abuse, more so in the case of the girl child. When a girl is probably abused by someone at home, to hide this fact she is sold to an employer from a city as domestic help, or then as a bride to an old man.
Though eradicating the menace seems like a difficult and nearly impossible task, immense efforts have to be made in this direction. The first step would be to become aware of the causes of child labor. The leading reason is that children are employed because they are easier to exploit. On the other hand, people sell their children as commodities to exploitive employers to have additional sources of income.
Most such employers pay a lump sum for the child and then keep him or her imprisoned within the factory unit till the child cannot work due to deteriorating health as a result of harsh living and working conditions. Lack of proper educational facilities is another reason that forces parents to send their children to work.
India accounts for the second highest number of child labor after Africa. Bonded child labor or slave labor is one of the worst types of labor for children. This system still continues in spite of the Indian Parliament enacting the Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act in 1976. It is estimated that approximately 10 million bonded children laborers are working as domestic servants in India. Beyond this there are almost 55 million bonded child laborers hired across various other industries.
A recent ILO report says that about 80 per cent of child laborers in India are employed in the agriculture sector. Generally, the children are sold to the rich moneylenders to whom borrowed money cannot be returned. ‘Street children’ is another type of child labor where children work on the streets as beggars, flower sellers, etc, instead of going to school. Sometimes they are made to go hungry for days together so that people feel sorry for them and give alms.
Among the industries, glass and bangle industry is estimated to employ around 60,000 children who are made to work under extreme conditions of excessive heat. An equal number are estimated to be employed in matchbox factories, where they are made to work over twelve hours a day, beginning work at around 4 a.m., everyday. The brass and the lock industries also employ an estimated 50,000 children each. However, it is the carpet industry in India which employs the largest number of children estimated to be more than four lakhs.
The statistical information regarding child labor cannot be taken to be precise, as there are areas where no accounting has been done. There are innumerable workshops and factories that have cramped up rooms where children work, eat and sleep. No one from the outside world would even know that they are working there. However, people working towards the welfare of child laborers, with the tip-off from insiders, have been able to rescue a number of children from such units.
The National Policy on Child Labor formulated in 1987 seeks to adopt a gradual and sequential approach with a focus on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations and processes. The Action Plan outlined the Legislative Action Plan for strict enforcement of Child Labor Act and other labor laws to ensure that children are not employed in hazardous employments, and that the working conditions of children working in non-hazardous areas are regulated in accordance with the provisions of the Child Labor Act.
It also entails further identification of additional occupations and processes, which are detrimental to the health and safety of the children. Government has accordingly been taking proactive steps to tackle this problem through general strict enforcement of legislative provisions along with simultaneous rehabilitative measures.
To bring the social malady of child labor under control, the government has opened a special cell to help children in exploitive circumstances. These cells comprise of social inspectors, as well as other administrative personnel, employed specifically to deal with child labor issues. Also, in recent years, the media has helped unravel what is happening in certain industrial units with journalists visiting such places with a hidden camera. The efforts made by sections of the government, social workers, non-government organizations and others to rescue and rehabilitate the children must be applauded.
In addition, each individual should also take responsibility of reporting about anyone employing a child below the age of fourteen years. However, considering the magnitude and extent of the problem, concerted efforts from all sections of the society is needed to make a dent. Measures need to be taken not only to stop this crime against children, but also to slowly, steadily and surely provide every child a well-deserved healthy and normal childhood.