In the pre-industrial agricultural society of India, children used to work as helpers and learners in the hereditarily determined family occupation under the benign supervision of elders. The workplace was extension of family atmosphere and the nature of work was simple due to simple technology. The advent of industrialisation and urbanisation resulted in exodus of rural population to urban centers. The child had to work as individual person and under an employer or without the supervision of his guardian. Exposed to hazards of chemicals, poi- sons and dangerous works; subjected to repetitive, monotonous and unpromising drudgery; and to widely stretched working hours with- out adequate leisure and adequate pay, the children were imperiled of their physical health and mental growth. The industrial revolution started in the West deprived the sources of traditional employment and generated vast demands for manpower due to which child labour became outrageously manifest. Child labour is a social evil because of the hazards of the work, denial of opportunity for natural development, exploitation arising from low wages, loss of bargaining power on the part of adult workers due to availability of cheap child workers and loss of valuable opportunity for schooling towards better equipment with competence. As the Committee on Child Labour (1979, headed by Sri M.S. Gurupadaswamy) has concluded, “child labour is economically unsound, psychologically disastrous and physically as well as morally dangerous and harmful.”
That the problem of child labour is serious is evident from the following statistics. According to the 1991 census, the population of working children in India is 11.28 millions. Although as compared to 13.64 millions in 1981 there is trend of decline, other research surveys estimate higher incidence of child labour. Child labour in India accounts for 5.2 percent of the total labour force. It is more rural than urban phenomenon as 80 per cent of the working children are in rural areas engaged in agricultural and allied activities. Only 6 percent of child workers
engage in activities prohibited under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act. For rest of the working child population, the law is not providing protection as either the work is not hazardous or the child works within family economic enterprise. However, stressful conditions of work and denial of opportunities to have formal education and joyous childhood are the features in all these spheres. The number of street children in major seven cities of India has crossed 5, 00,000. Further, numerous orphaned children, children of prostitutes, children of construction workers live in especially difficult circumstances.
Author is Senior lecturer at KCEF Law College Pulwama