Child Labour: A Global Challenge to save children from servitude

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By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle

12 June 2011: The world has woken up to the universal phenomenon of child labour and has been devising ways and means to eradicate this blot on the human society.  Millions of girls and boys throughout the world are engaged in work that deprives them of adequate education, health, leisure and basic freedoms, violating their rights. Of these children, more than half are exposed to hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labour, illicit activities such as drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as involvement in armed conflict especially in African countries. Child labour  robs the children of their innocence and childhood for the sake of livelihood. In fact child labour poses a global challenge to save millions of children from servitude.


12 June: World Day Against Child Labour:
With a view to focus the attention of the world to the colossal problem of child labour  and to sensitize the governments and the society at large to this menace the International Labour Organization (ILO), a specialised agency of the United Nations Organisation (UNO) had  launched the  World Day Against Child Labour in 2002. The day, which has been observed on June 12 every year, is intended to gain support of individual governments and that of the civil society and others, including schools, youth and women’s groups as well as the media in the campaign against child labour.


The theme of this year’s World Day Against Child Labour set forth by the ILO is ‘hazardous child labour’ to specially focus the attention on those children who are employed in hazardous occupations.


The term Child Labour is used for employment of children below a certain prescribed age,  which is considered illegal by law and custom. The stipulated age varies from country to country and government to government.


However, it may be noted that not all work done by children can be classified as child labour. The participation in work by children or adolescents that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their education  is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents in household chores, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families and provide them with skills and experience that help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life.



In its most extreme forms, child labour involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities, often at a very early age.


Whether or not particular forms of ‘work’ can be called ‘child labour’ depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries.


According to the 2010 Global Report on Child Labour by the ILO, an estimated  115 million children are involved in hazardous work. This is work that by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm children’s health, safety or morals. Thus, hazardous work is among the worst forms of child labour which the international community has targeted for elimination by 2016.


International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC)  aims at  the progressive elimination of child labour worldwide. Since it began operations in 1992, IPEC has worked to achieve this in several ways: through country-based programmes which promote policy reform, build institutional capacity and put in place concrete measures to end child labour. These efforts have resulted in hundreds of thousands of children being withdrawn from work and rehabilitated or prevented from entering the workforce.


Child Labour in India:
The problem of child labour is very acute in India. According to statistics provided by the government of India there are around 20 million child labourers in the country, while other agencies claim that the number of child labourers in India is above 50 million.


There have been various reasons for the phenomenon of child labour in India. Some of the common causes that can be attributed to child labour are: poverty, parental illiteracy, social apathy, ignorance, lack of education and exposure, exploitation of cheap and unorganized labour and family practice of  teaching  traditional skills to children.


There are also other factors that indirectly promote child labour in India. These include: absence of compulsory education at the primary level, parental ignorance regarding the bad effects of child labour, the ineffective child labour laws in terms of implementation, non availability and non accessibility of schools, boring and unpractical school curriculum and cheap child labour.


Besides the above factors, poverty and over population have been identified as the two main causes of child labour in India. Parents are forced to send little children into hazardous jobs for reasons of survival even when they know it is wrong. Monetary constraints and the need for food, shelter and clothing drive their children in the trap of premature labour. Over population in some regions creates paucity of resources. When there are limited means and more mouths to feed,  children are driven to commercial activities and not provided for their developmental needs. This is the case in most Asian and African countries.



Illiterate and ignorant parents do not understand the fact that their children need proper physical and emotional development. They are themselves uneducated and unexposed. Hence, they do not realize the importance of education for their children.


Unemployment among the adults and urbanization also indirectly lead to child labour. Adults often find it difficult to find jobs because factory owners find it more beneficial to employ children at cheaper rates than the adults. This exploitation is particularly visible in garment factories of urban areas. It has been found in a number of instances that elders relax at home and live on the earnings of poor helpless children.


Sometimes multinationals prefer to employ child workers in the developing countries as they can be recruited for less pay. Besides, more work can be extracted from them and there is no union problem with them. This attitude also makes it difficult for adults to find jobs in factories, forcing them to drive their children to work in order to run the families.


In Northern India the exploitation of little children for labour is an accepted practice and perceived by the local population as a necessity to cunter poverty. Carpet weaving industries pay very low wages to child labourers and make them work for long hours in unhygienic conditions. Children working in such units are mainly migrant workers from Northern India.


The practice of bonded child labour is prevalent in many parts of rural India. This age old practice is the most inhuman and miserable form of child exploitation in the country. In this form of child labour, the child is sold to the landlord or money lender like a commodity for a certain period of time. His labour is treated like security or collateral security and unscrupulous rich men procure them for small sums at exorbitant interest rates.


The children who are thus sold as bonded labourers only get a handful of coarse grain to keep them alive in return for their labour. Sometimes their period of mortgage extends for a life time and they have to simply toil hard and depend on the mercy of their owners without any hope of release or redemption. The impoverished parents of the bonded child are usually a poor, uneducated landless labourer.


The practice of child bonded labour persists like a scourge to humanity in spite of many laws against it. These laws although stringent and provide for imprisonment and imposition of huge fines on those who are found guilty are literally non- functional in terms of implementation.


Towards elimination of Child Labour:
Indian Constitution enshrines certain specific Articles and clauses in the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of the State Policy which clearly lay down clear policy rules regarding child labour.  Article 14 lays down that “No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.”


According to Article 39-E, “The state shall direct its policy towards securing that the health and strength of workers, men and women and the tender age of children are not abused and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuited to there are and strength.”


Article 39-f  states  that “Children shall be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth shall be protected against moral and material abandonment.”


Article 45 says that “The state shall endeavour to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of the constitution for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.”


Besides these Constitutional guarantees, the central government  had taken  legislative measures at the national level to eradicate child labour in India. These include: The Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act -1986 and The Factories Act -1948. The first act was categorical in prohibiting the employment of children below fourteen years of age, and identified 57 processes and 13 occupations which were considered dangerous to the health and lives of children. The details of these occupations and processes are listed in the schedule to the said Act.



The Factories Act also prohibits the employment of children less than fourteen years of age. However an adolescent aged between 15 and 18 can be recruited for factory employment only after securing a fitness certificate from a medical doctor who is authorized. The Act prescribes only four and half hour’s work period per day for children between 14 and 18 years. Children are also not allowed to work in night shifts.


The judiciary in India has been proactive in relation to child labour. In 1996, the Supreme Court of India came out with a judgment that directed the State and Union governments to make a list of all children working  in hazardous occupations and processes. They were then told to pull them out of work and asked to provide them with proper education. The judiciary also laid down that Child Labour and Welfare Fund be set up. The contribution for this was to be received from employers who violated the Child Labour Act.


At the international level, India is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ILO Abolition of Forced Convention – No 105 and ILO Forced Labour Convention – No. 29. A National Labour Policy was also adopted in the year 1987 in accordance with India’s developmental  strategies and aims. The National Policy was designed to reinforce the Directive Principles of State Policy in the Indian Constitution.


Concerned about the future of its children,  India has recently implemented a country wide ban  on children below fourteen working in the hospitality sector and as domestic helps. It is intended that those who are found violating the law will be fined and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for two years. Children in India are not allowed to work in mines, factories and other hazardous jobs.


In spite of these measures, child labour still persists in India in various spheres of activity right from the rural areas to urban centres. As in the case of many laws, the enforcement agencies are not quite serious about implementing those laws aimed at the eradication of child labour.


While manifesting sincerity and seriousness in implementing the constitutional provisions and legislations towards eradication of child labour in India, it is more important to take developmental measures to eliminate the causes that lead to child labour. The reasons that still promote child labour in India are poverty, illiteracy, scarcity of schools, ignorance, socially regressive practices, blind customs and traditions, migration and last but not the least corruption amongst employees and government labour organizations.



Comments on this Article
Benedict Noronha, Udupi Thu, June-16-2011, 6:31
Very informative and useful article by Dr Eugene. The photographs shake the heart beats. Congratulations for exposing the child Labour problem. The unfortunate part of it is that our elected representatives of the people are not at all concerned about this menace. They have increased their emoluments and that too enjoy without discharging any useful business in the house. Can we book these MLA s and M.P.s for drawing more than they desrve and reduce their benefits and create a fund to eradicate Child Labour by providing for the children s needs? Anna Hajare and Kiran Bedi must concentrate on fighting this menace also. The employers who engage children must be thrown behind the bars and thereafter the enquire must go on. No bail should be granted to them. Can the Public support this cause if initiated? Come out,be bold and let us make the beginning.
shabaz khan, jodhpur Sun, June-12-2011, 12:55
The main result of child laborer is teachers punished children.
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