Main points to remember:
Main pockets of child labour
Causes of child labour
National Policy on Child Labour
Global campaign to boycott goods manufactured by underage children
Argument in favour of Child Labour- a vicious circle
Article 24 of the Indian Constitution provides for prohibition of child labour. It says ‘No child below the age of 15 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.” Despite the above mentioned constitutional provision, the child labour scenario in India presents a disturbing picture. India tops the list of countries having the highest child labour population. Estimates of child labour in the country range from 44 million to 100 million. The Government records admit at least 17.8 million child labour. Major industries which engage child labour include carpet making, gemstone polishing, brass and base metal article, glass and glasswares, footwear, textiles, silk and fireworks.
Main pockets of child labour:
In India the percentage of child labour employed in various occupations is as under: (/) agriculture 42.75% (if) transport, storage and communication 0.31%, (Hi) construction activities 0.71% (/v) manufacturing, processing and housing 8%, (v) mining and quarrying 0.24%, (v/) livestock, fishing, forestry, hunting and plantation 6.5% and (vii) trade and commerce 5%.
There are 10 pockets known as high density child labour areas in this country. The percentage of school drop-outs is higher here as compared to national average. These main pockets are the match industry in Sivakashi (Tamil Nadu), the precious stone polishing industry in Jaipur (Rajasthan), the glass industry in Ferozabad (Uttar Pradesh), the hand-made carpet industry in Mirzapur- Bhadehi (UttarPradesh), the lock-making industry in Aligarh (Uttar Pradesh), the slate industry in Maikapur (Andhra Pradesh), the diamond polishing industry in Surat (Gujarat) and the hand-made carpet’ industry in Jammu and Kashmir.
It is estimated that over one lakh children are working in the Mirzapur-Bhadehi belt of carpet industry and there are over 80.000 child carpet makers in Kashmir alone and 90 per cent of them are bonded. Sivakashi is considered one of the largest concentrations of child labour where approximately 50,000 children are working in match and fire works industry. As per the official estimates a little less than 50 per cent of the total child labour in India is engaged in agriculture.
Causes of child labour:
The main cause of the child labour in India is considered lack of education. The incidence of child labour is closely related to the rate of school drop-outs, which is 47 per cent at primary level and 64 per cent at middle level. According to Prof. Myron Weiner, the prevalence of child labour in India is largely due to the failure of the educational system. To quote him, “Due to lack of compulsory education for which constitutional provisions exist, half of the population of school age children is either at home or in the labour force.”
It is not that efforts have not been made to do away with this malady. There are over a dozen legislations in India dealing with child labour. Important among them are – Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, Factories Act, the Minimum Wages Act, Employment of Children Act, 1938 and Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933. However, lack of uniformity and other anomalies have left the field open for exploitation to perpetuate child labour.
National Policy on Child Labour:
Government of India announced the National Policy on Child Labour in 1987 which provided for taking up projects in areas of child labour concentration. These projects are meant to wean away children from these industries and to provide them basic needs like non-formal education, vocational training, health care etc. The project under-implementations are at Sivakashi, Jaipur and Mirzapur.
Global campaign to boycott goods manufactured by underage children:
Of late a global campaign against child labour has been launched and the programmes included therein are boycott of exports of goods made by underage workers. In this connection the ICFTU report is alarming: it says that over 100 to 200 million children under 15 are working in streets, factories and mines, mainly in South Asia and Latin America. The report indicates the situation of child labour in Colombia, Peru, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mexico and Philippines. In a statement ICFTU said that hand-woven carpets from Nepal, India and Pakistan shall be put under boycott unless they were labeled with a guarantee that child workers were not involved in production. The USA and a number of other European countries are contemplating banning import of goods produced by using child labour. Indian authorities have thus woken up under pressure.
Argument in favour of Child Labour- a vicious circle:
The main argument in favour of child labour is that poverty-stricken families will be deprived of an additional income if child labour is banned. The children are made to work to fill their stomach. But on the other hand, in this process, they are deprived of education. Consequently, when they grow adult, they will have very limited employment opportunities due to lack of education. US will start a vicious circle and they may again send their children for work. It is not the poverty perpetuating child labour, but the other way round.
India and the ILO (International Labour Organization) have signed a memorandum of understanding on eventual elimination of child labour. Whatever measures have been taken in India are based on the premises that since the root cause of poverty cannot be eliminated overnight, the best solution is to regulate the practice of child labour. No doubt total abolition of child labour would redeem the situation, but such a step cannot be contemplated unless back-up plans are kept in readiness.