Child Labour

Child labour is work that harms children or keeps them from attending school. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 215 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 currently work under conditions that are considered illegal, hazardous, or extremely exploitative. Official figures indicate that there are over 12 million child workers in India, but many NGOs reckon the real figure is up to 60 million. The number of girls involved is not much lower than the boys. Despite living in the 21st century, child labour remains a serious problem and it can be found in nearly every industry ranging from agriculture to prostitution. The problem is particularly rife in India, where millions of children work in quarries and fields instead of in classrooms. Many have questioned why child labour is still so rife in India, despite some measures which have been suggested to combat this, such as a Bill passed by Indian Parliament which would help prevent these practices.

A number of reasons explain the causes of child labour but without discussing the historical background of child labour, one cannot fully comprehend the underlying causes.

In India, child labour has always existed in the agricultural sector. Children and their parents used to work together in the farms and children were always given the task of taking the cattle to graze. Despite this work being  hard and tiring, it did not lead to a worsening of their future prospects, unlike today. Originally, schooling was not available in the majority of villages and most of the jobs were still in the agricultural sector. Therefore, this work served as training for their future. It was only when large scale exploitation of children in India took place that the situation worsened.  

If one conducts some research into the matter, one will find that a history of legislation relating to child labour in India exists. One of the earliest forms of legislation was ‘The Factories Act’ which was implemented in 1881, which aimed to ensure that children under the age of 7 would not have to work for more than 9 hours a day. In the 20th century, many more acts were passed such as ‘The Plantations Labour Act’ in 1951, which prohibited children under the age of 12 from working. However, the gap between enactment and enforcement remains unacceptably wide and this is because a law is only as good as its enforcement.Along with laws not being enforced properly, it can also be said that poverty, unemployment and the global economy result in child labour being so rife in India.

In terms of poverty, almost one third of the country’s population continues to live below the poverty line, and a large proportion of poor people live in rural areas. Poverty remains a chronic condition for almost 30 per cent of India’s rural population.   Poor children and their families will often find themselves relying upon child labour in order to improve their chances of attaining basic necessities- they have no other choice. Unemployment contributes towards poverty and the Indian economy can suffer as a result. For example, it can be said that even during the period of good harvest, Indian farmers are not employed for the entire year.  In terms of the global economy, India offers some of the world’s cheapest labour and so the problem of child labour will not disappear.

There are many examples in India of how child labour is a great problem. One story concerns Lakshmi, a 13 year old girl who was rescued from forced employment. “I was not allowed to rest,” she says. “If I did something wrong or it was not what they wanted, they hit me. When she started working, the agent who arranged her work withheld all her wages leaving her with nothing. This is just one case of how child labour still affects many in India.

Earlier on in this article, I mentioned that a law is only as good as its enforcement and the government body in charge of children’s rights admits they are helpless. The head of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Kushal Singh, said that “Unfortunately our child labour prohibition and regulation act is totally outdated’’. For instance, it states that ‘’children below the age of 14 cannot be employed in hazardous occupations ‘’. Singh then goes onto question what this exactly means. ‘’Does that mean in non-hazardous occupations, a two-year-old child can be employed?’’. As a result of this, it has been dubbed as a regressive act. Parliament has raised the issue but has been pending for quite some time.

The fight to end child labour is far from over but if amendments to laws like these can be made, then it will make the fight against child exploitation a little easier. However, it will still depend on how laws are enforced and it will only be once poverty is wiped out or at least reduced greatly, that child labour in India will be a thing of the past.

References: : Child Labour: India’s hidden shame. Child Labour public education project.  – History of Legislation Relating to Child Labor in India.