Child labour is a curse to our society and a crime against humanity. Children work when they are supposed to play or go to school. The sad thing is that they work under hazardous conditions. Though acute poverty is the main cause for child labour throughout the world, everybody – society, parents, government, individuals, low wages, unemployment, poor standard of living, deep social prejudices and backwardness are directly responsible for child labour in India.
The social scenarios, according to the Gurupada Swami Committee on child labour, has changes radically with the advent of industrialization and urbanization. Earlier, the children were employed to agriculture and plantation only, where they were involved in sowing and reaping, harvesting, thirsting etc, besides taking care of the cattle and toddler. But industrialization has employed them in hazardous works like bidi rolling, fire cracker making, matchbox making, pencil making, bangle making, carpet making etc.
In Bidi industry children with their nimble fingers perform the chore of rolling besides binding and closing the ends. In the cracker industries a large number of children lose their lives lives dues to fire accidents. In match factories children are made to work at frame filling bundles and rolling operation. In pencil industry children are subject to lung disorders and diseases at very early age due to exposure to hazardous slate dusts. In bangle factories, children help in katai, jalia and chunai and there chores are extremely proved to lung diseases. In carper factories, thousands of children not only lose their eye sight but also get physical deformity because of sitting at one posture for long hours.
In the brass industry children are employed to fan the furnace and remove the molten from it. If the crucible of molten metal slips from the tongs, the child is left with not feet. In the sericulture industry, children are employed in the hazardous process of bolding the cocoons in water. Doctors do not treat the accidents victims for fear of getting involved in legal case; the children are left to their own fate.
The garments industry employs children to work on looms upto 10 hours a day, inhaling cotton dust and exposing them to disease. Leather industry too employs children who are required to work with chemicals and acids. Jewellery and zari work too employs children. Factories of stainless steel employ children, who work with dangerous chemicals. Children also find employment in pottery and slate units and toil in conditions that give them tuberculosis and asthma. Other ways that support child labour is is construction and brick making industries. Often, children work as bonded labor in these industries.
Child labour, although, is more prevalent in developing countries, it definitely a universal phenomenon. In Naples, millions of children are employed in leather industries. In Spain more than hundred thousands children work in orchards and plantations. An International Labour Organisation (ILO) study in the department of Madre de Dios has revealed that 20 % of the workers deployed in gold production units are from 11 years to 18 years of age. Thousands of children all over the western world work in fast food centers, gas stations, newspaper selling, cleaning of cars and work in garment and leather factories.
In India and other Asian countries a very large section of young female force is deployed as domestic servants particularly in urban areas. The red light area in most major cities all over the world are full of young Prostitutes.
According to the World Labor Report, the child labour is considered as ‘forced labour’ because children are rarely in a position to give free consent to any activities performed by them as most aspects of their lives are determined by adults. Though poverty forces families to send their children into labor, the employers find it a source of cheap and trouble-free labour. Children can be beaten and bullied into doing dirty jobs and they can trade union take their responsibilities. Child laborers don’t seem to have any rights.
In Indian, however, there is no law which actually provided for elimination of child labour. The constitution in article -25 states that no child below 14 years will be employed in any factories or mines or engaged in any hazardous employment. But, no where does it make any mention of abultion or elimination of child labor. Although the Child labour Prohibition and Regulation Act of 1986 has suggested reasonable working conditions for children working in hazardous conditions the term hazardous neither been clearly defined anywhere in the Constitution, nor in different legislation proposed on child labor. Thus, the interpretation of the term ‘hazardous’ is ambiguous and inadequate especially in the case of child labor.
Until poverty persists in India, child labor cannot perhaps be totally removed. Therefore, to eliminate the poverty and child labor in town the government has taken a number of measures :-
1. The Government has announced ‘Food for Education Programme’ to eradicate child labor. Under this the family of child laborer was to be given 1 kg of cereal a day if the child is sent to school.
2. The government proposes to amend Child Labor Act giving more power to the district magistrate in the implementation of the Act, thus, eliminating child labor in hazardous conditions. Beside he will also fix the minimum wages for children and adult labor.
3. Children can be made to work in less exploitative and dangerous areas with regular working hours and assurance of proper meals and nourishment otherwise the case will be dealt with severity.
4. The government has sanctioned child labor projects in 63 districts in addition to 12 ongoing ones under the National Child Labour Project Scheme (NCLP). Under the scheme nearly 240 thousand children would be covered. Further, the government has also released Rs 6.65 crore for district level awareness campaign to 133 most child labor endemic districts in the country. A detailed consultation with state government and district officials from the most child labor endemic areas of the country has also been done.
The government alone ca not deal such a great problem and a change in attitude is needed to eliminate/reduce this menace. If children of the poor can be provided education and vocational training and if stipends accompany such training, parents would be under less pressure to send their children to work in hazardous factories. But this require a huge effort and a fresh thinking, which sadly is lacking and the blame for child labor must be shared by the society and the leaders.