Child labor is a serious blot on our efforts to project India as a dynamic country on the move. According to International Labor Organization (ILO) statistics, India has perhaps the largest child labor force in the world, which is around 16.5 million. Unofficially however the estimate is around 45 million of which around 20 percent are in urban areas and the rest in rural areas.
In a country where much of the people live below the poverty line, it is simply not easy to eliminate this social problem. The root of child labor is always poverty and to some extent ignorance. But it is a stark truth that without getting into an employment these child labors would starve to death. Their parents cannot afford to feed them on their own and these little, children are simply forced to work. To acquire this basic necessity of life, the family forgets all their sense of morality and sends their children to work in factories and small scale industries. These children, deprived of the precious memories of childhood, grow up into ignorant adults with hardly any type of intellectual gain.
In the past, measures taken by the developed world against the developing countries to check this social evil hardly had any impact because the developing countries simply did not bother. The problem continued to grow. The fact that this social evil is inextricably intertwined with other common problems such as poverty, female literacy etc. make it a vicious circle. To eradicate this social evil was laws were made and a national body was set up against child exploitation. However, the situation worsened. Article 24 of the Indian constitution dealing with fundamental rights says ‘No child below the age of 18 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or be engaged in any hazardous employment’. But this provision also remains ideal. The problem of child labor has also started affecting Indian economy. It is likely to threaten Indian exports. Germany put pressure on India to stop export of products made by children. United States also banned Indian exports of products involving child labor. International labor Rights Funds also accused and threatened India that if Indian Carpet Industry did not adopt Rugmark label, that guaranteed that no child labor was used, they have to Indian into line with a boycott like what was organizes by the child Labor coalition against Bangladesh.
It was then the country decided to take a hard and serious look into the issue. But to their dismay, the government found that bringing in adequate legislative measures to curb child labor is easy, but implementing them is another matter altogether. Education and economic prosperity are the only solution to fight against this problem. The problem facing the implementation policy is defining what exactly a hazardous job is and which kinds of jobs actually exploit children. With modernization and globalization of the economy, the working conditions have considerably improved, so the jobs which were considered hazardous yesterday are not at all hazardous today. Secondly, children are exploited due to many advantages. They are very cheap. Child laborers are often paid Rs. 3 per day when an adult takes the minimum wages of Rs. 1,400 per month as per law. Children never fight for their rights. They are meek and easily submissive.
At many places child labor has consumed a sinister form. In Mumbai and Goa sex with children is available as ‘Pleasure-packages’. It is estimated that 20 percent of the one lakh prostitutes in Mumbai alone are below 18 years of age. In Tamil Nadu Children are employed in the highly hazardous small scale match and firework factories. Around 30 lakh children work in the Saree industry in Varanasi. More than 10 lakh children work in brick-pits stone guarries o the banks of the Ganges. The carpet belt of India employ about 1.5 lakh and hundreds of children work in bidi-rolling factories in Tamil Nadu and so on.
The tough step taken by European governments against import of goods whose manufacture involve child labor has forced the authorities to take some concrete steps to eradicate child labor. Serious measures are being taken such as providing education for children is made a topmost priority and punishment is ensured through legal means to those who violate the child labor Act. Special attention should be drown towards the plight of bonded child laborers who are worse than the free child laborers and such policies should be discouraged in which allowing non-formal education for two hours or so and then sending the children to work. Full use of mass communication such as Doordarshan, press, Akashwani etc. should be made.
However, the task of eradicating child labor is not an impossible one because European and the other developed countries have eradicated this evil. The first and foremost task is to create awareness about the magnitude of the problem and this can be achieved through economic liberalization.
The Supreme Court in its historic judgment, given on 10th December, 1996, ordered the employers to pay Rs.20 thousand to each child-laborer due to the disobeyance of child-labor law. In its 36 page judgment the court clearly started that an adult from the family of every child-laborer will be given a job so that parents will not be compelled to send their child to work. These measures should be started immediately and children working in hazardous condition should be given priority.