“India is the largest child labour force market in the world. The problem of child labour in India is of colossal proportions. The notion that children are being exploited and forced into labour, while not receiving education crucial to development, concerns many people. India is the largest example plagued by the problem of child labour”.
The problem of child labour exploitation is a major challenge to the progress of developing countries. Children work at the cost of their right to education which leaves them permanently trapped in the poverty cycle, without the education and literacy required for better-paying jobs. This is particularly serious in India as it tops the list with the highest number of child labourers in the world. The 2001 national census of India estimated the total number of child labourers, aged 5-14, to be at 12.6 million. Out of the 12.6 million, 0.12 million engaged in hazardous jobs. However, according to informal labour force statistics, the problem’ seems to be more severe than reflected. Child labour is estimated to be as large as 60 million in India, as many children are ‘hidden workers’ working in homes or in the underground economy. In the long run, this phenomenon will evolve to be both a social and an economic problem as economic disparities widen between the poor and educationally backward states and that of the faster-growing states. India has the highest number of labourers in the world less than 14 years of age. Although the Constitution of India guarantees free and compulsory education to children between the age of 6 to 14 years and prohibits employment of children younger than 14 in any hazardous environment, child labour is prevalent in almost all informal sectors of the Indian economy.
Child labour supports the source of income of the poor. A study conducted by the ILO Bureau of Statistics found that “Children’s work was considered essential in maintaining the economic level of households, either in the form of work for wages, of help in household enterprises or of household chores in order to free adult household members for economic activity elsewhere”. In some cases, the study found that a child’s income accounted for between 34 and 37% of the total household income. This study concludes that a child labourer’s income is important to the livelihood of a poor family.
The fact that child labourers are being exploited is clear from a study that shows that children for the same type of work are paid less than their adult counterparts. Although 39.5% of employers said that child workers earn wages equal to adults, if the percentage of employers admitting that wages are lower for children is added up, a figure of 35.9% is found. The percentage of the population of India living in poverty is quite high. Poverty has an obvious relationship with child labour, and studies have revealed a positive correlation as such. Poor families need money to survive, and children are a source of additional income.
The twin factors are (1) poverty and (2) the lack of a social security network form the basis of the worst type of bonded child labour. For the poor, there a£ few sources of bank loans, governmental loans or other credit sources, aril even if sources are available, few of them living in poverty qualify or they hesitate to go for any loans for fear that a bribe may be demanded or owing to fear of penalty if unable to pay the loan. Here enters the local moneylender, for an average of two thousand rupees, parents exchange their child’s labour to local moneylenders (Human Rights Watch 1996). Since the earnings of bonded child labourers are less than the interest on the loans, these bonded children are forced to work, while interest on their loans accumulates. A bonded child can only be released after his/her parents make a lump sum payment, which is extremely difficult for the poor.
Though poverty is one of the basic causes of child labour, it is not the only factor. Inadequate school facilities or even the expense of schooling leaves them with little else to do but work. The attitudes of parents also contribute to child labour. Some parents feel that children should work in order to develop skills useful in the job market, instead of wasting time in formal education.
Since independence, India has committed itself to be against child labour. Article 24 of the Indian Constitution clearly states that “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment”. Article 39(e) Directs State Policy such that, “the health and strength of workers . . . and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuited to their age or strength”. These two Articles show that India has always had the goal of taking care of its children and ensuring the safety of workers. The Bonded Labour System Act of 1976 fulfills the Indian Constitution’s directive of ending forced labour. The Act “frees all bonded labourers, cancels any outstanding debts against them, prohibits the creation of new bondage agreements, and orders the economic rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers by the state”. In regard to child labour, the Indian government enacted the Child Labour Act in 1986. The purpose of this act is to “prohibit the employment of children who have not completed their 14th year in specified hazardous occupations and processes” This shows that the government of India can make laws against any inhuman activities hut cannot implement because many political leaders running the Government themselves own the factories where children are exploited.
The most comprehensive of all child labour laws passed in India is the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 (CLPRA). The beginnings of this Act could be traced to a non-governmental organization based in Bengaluru, India. This group argued that “poverty was the main cause of child labour and that, therefore, the attempt should be to regulate the conditions under which children work rather than prohibit such work.” This argument resulted in widespread discussions between two groups of activists. While one supported the regulation of child labour, the other insisted that prohibition would be the only solution to the problem. Prior to the creation of the Act, “the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Bill was introduced in both houses of Parliament” with the following statement of objects and reason.
There are a number of Acts which prohibit the employment of children below 14 years and 15 years in certain specified employments. However, there is no procedure laid down in any law for deciding in which employments, occupations or processes the employment of children should be banned. There is no law to regulate the working conditions of children in most of the employments where they are not prohibited from working and are under exploitative conditions.
The introduction of this Bill generated a debate in the Indian Parliament with some members voicing their apprehensions and reservations with regards to different aspects of the Bill. Even so, the CLPRA was passed in 1986, and it continues to be the principal enactment on the issue of employment of children. This Act does not call for an outright ban on child labour, but instead permits employment of children in industries that are not specified in the Act. Although the Act has been criticized for the above reason, it must be noted that the attempt to contextually address the problem of child labour in India is evident in this Act.
The problem of illiteracy is also one of the reasons of the problem of child labour. It has been observed that “the overall condition of the education system can be a powerful influence on the supply of child labour”. Dropout rates measured by the department of education show that 35% of males and 39% of female’s dropout. The concept of compulsory education, where all school aged children are required to attend school, combats the force of poverty that pulls children out of school. Policies relating to compulsory education not only force children to attend school, but also contribute appropriate funds to the primary education system, instead of higher education.
To make state’s children attain requisite skills to become independent successful persons in life, the government has taken an important initiative in the form of right to education. It has came to force from 1st April, 2010. It makes education as claimable right for the child and provides provisions so that every child may get an opportunity to attain education. This is meant to be a serious blow to child labour as children have been given a fundamental right, with validation challenge able in the courts. This step could positively lead to empowerment of Indian children.
The problem of child labour still remains even though all of these policies are existent. Enforcement is the key aspect that is lacking in the government’s efforts. No enforcement data for child labour laws are available. “A glaring sign of neglect of their duties by officials charged with enforcing child labour laws is the failure to collect, maintain and disseminate accurate statistics regarding enforcement efforts”. Although the lack of data does not mean enforcement is non-existent, the number of child labourers and their work participation rates show that enforcement is existent, but ineffective.
The problem of child labour has social, economical and political faces. It cannot be eliminated by focusing on one determinant, e.g. education, or by brute enforcement of child labour laws. The government of India must ensure that the needs of the poor are filled before eliminating child labour. If poverty is eradicated, the need for child labour will automatically diminish. No matter how hard India tries, child labour always will exist unless the policy makers and bureaucracy start honestly working in this direction. The development of India as a nation is being hampered by child labour. Children are growing up illiterate because they have been working and not attending school. A cycle of poverty is formed and the need for child labour is reborn after every generation. India needs to address the problem by tackling the underlying causes of child labour through governmental policies and with the coordination and cooperation of the NGOs and the enforcement of these policies honestly in true spirit. Without wiping out the causes permanently, we cannot eradicate the typical problem of child labour. The half hearted measures are not sufficient. If we could eradicate poverty, child labour will automatically say good bye to India.