By: Er. Prabhat Kishore
Children are the future of a nation and are the mirror of its development. Their shriveled face reflects country’s degradation, whereas blossomed face expresses advancement. Since ancient times, their care have been the sole responsibility of the society. In human life, childhood is the stage when they need love, affection, trust, responsibility, acceptability and security. The people whose childhood has been secure, respectful & reciprocal, their personality and future are generally found to be balanced and they contribute for the well-being of the society. But, it is poignant that a large section of children have to spend their childhood in miserable conditions. The children who should have to contribute in progress of nation as engineers, doctors, scientists, officers, journalists, businessmen, or progressive farmers, unfortunately they are engaged as child labourers for their family’s livelihood.
A child is meant to learn and not earn. Chronic Poverty, high population growth, lack of interest in education, migration, natural disaster, increasing landlessness, rising and unemployment and so on are the underlying reasons behind the child labour. These children come from such family, who have no other means other than human work-force. India has not come out of poverty even after 73 years of independence. The economic as well as population policies of governments have failed and a large section of the masses are bereft of even basic amenities.
The problem of child labour has always been neglected at national level. Although this problem has its presence in all ages. In ancient time, the children engaged themselves in agriculture or other family occupations. After industrialization, the concept of child labour also transformed. Children became an independent unit and they have to join the workplace without guardian’s protection and have to handle their problems themselves.
The child labour has been gradually promoted by industrialists, factory owners, hotels, and landlord farmers , as children work for undefined hours without any hue & cry on minimal wages. “More hand more work” mentality of labourer family has made the situation from bad to worse. Such children are deprived of inclusive social protection regarding education & all-round development and their whole childhood undergoes for earning wages. They are seen having sickle, fade or other equipments in their hand in place of books or notebooks.
The problem of child labour can be found in every corner of the world. India, Brazil, Haiti, Kenya, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Bangla Desh are the most affected countries. Unicef report 2020 reveals that approximately 16 Crore children are engaged in child labour, out of which half belongs to Asian sub-continent. Globally, 9 million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of pandemic COVID 19.
The agriculture, forestry & fishing sector accounts for 70% of children as child labour, followed by 20% in service and 10% in industry. The child labour in rural areas stands 14% as against 5% in urban areas. The child labour is more prevalent among boys, but when household chores are taken into account, the gender gap narrows.
Several industries in India are fully reliant on child labour. Kalin industry in Kashmir, glass industry in Firozabad, Cracker & match industry in Shivkashi (Tamilnadu), slate industry in Mandsaur (MP), leather industry in Kanpur & Agra, Diamond polish industry in Rajasthan & Gujarat, lock industry of Aligarh, Bangle industry of Jaipur, Hosiery, Bidi, fishery, etc. have their existence on the cheap wages of child labour. Most of the Dhabas and hotels in the country are flourishing due to 15-16 hour working of child labour.
Involvement of child labour in hazardous activities leads to numerous health and psychological problems like chest & abdominal pain, skin infections, eye or ear problem, headache, physical tardiness, respiratory infections. Due to no proper guardianship & care such children often exposed to theft, violence, criminal activities, physical & sexual abuses, drugs and other immoral activities.
The problem of child labour has been tackled through protective legislation at both national and international levels. The government has enacted the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employment and to regulate the conditions of work in certain other employment. The Supreme Court in its judgement on 10th December 1996, has declared child labour as illegal. Article 24 of the Constitution prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any hazardous industry or factory or mines. Article 39 has provision of protection of children against exploitation and moral & material abandonment. Article 45 in the constitution deals the provision of free & compulsory education for children below 14 years and for this “Right to Free & Compulsory Education Act 2009” has been implemented in year 2010. The Factories Act 1948, The Plantation Labour Act 1951, Motor Transport Workers Act 1961, The Contract Labour Act 1970, and Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 have been promulgated.
The words “child” and “labour” together signifies a disconcerting and negative narrative. But the prevailing socio-economic conditions donot permit to root out child labour overnight. A hungry person can not be expected to listen to valuable advice unless he can fill up his stomach first. In 1987, National Policy on Child Labour was framed for education, health, entertainment, and other development works for their well-being, but it needs to be reshaped and keep free from bureaucratic red-tapism.
Child labour has been a burning issues all over the world. It can not be eradicated without joint collaboration of society, family and administration. Child Labour is a social crime as every child has a right to shine. In today’s scientific age, although we have reached on Moon and Mars, world has come closer due to globalization, and numerous works of development can be counted on finger; but the ground reality is that without rooting out the child labour, a nation cannot become “Swasth, Sashakt & Samriddh Rashtra”.
(The author is a technocrat & academician. He holds Master in Engineering from M.N. Regional Engineering College, Allahabad/Prayagraj)