The menace of Child Labour will take over 100 years to fully end in India

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By Sachin Adhikari

This world is a harsh, unforgiving place. To survive and thrive here is no child’s play.

The above lines aptly capture the realities of our time. The fortunate ones realise the genuineness of this fact whilst engaging with this world as working professionals.

Sadly, for a vast majority of kids, this reality dawns a bit too early.

Child Labour, a global problem, is one of the biggest roadblocks to Human Rights, worldwide. It is a social malady that deprives children of their childhood, their innocence and their dignity. It stunts their growth and is absolutely harmful to their physical and mental development.

Our children are our future and they deserve nurturing. They should be provided with opportunities to enjoy a happy childhood, develop abilities and discover their potential in a congenial environment. But the harsh socio-economic realities push them, instead, towards exploitation in factories and fields, working long hours without adequate remuneration and most often, in less than human conditions.

World day against Child Labour is a Global Initiative by International Labour Organization, which seeks to address the issue of Child Labour by focusing attention on the measures needed for its eradication. Every year, the world community including governments, workers, organisations and civil societies comes together to highlight the plight of Child Labourers.

Child Labour as a social problem is most acute in developing and Third World countries such as Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Countries and Latin America, where rampant poverty and gross economic inequalities exist. Consider some of the startling facts about Child Labour in India,

  • India has the highest number of Child Labourers in the world with 31 million children in its workforce
  • The number of adolescents working in hazardous occupations is greatest in India
  • 1 in every 11 children in India is working
  • Despite numerous well-intentioned measures, the rate at which Child Labour is decreasing remains low at just 2.2 percent per year

I strongly believe that if we go by the present trends, the menace of Child Labour will take over 100 years to fully end in India.

While the main cause of Child Labour is poverty, children usually work out of necessity and without their earnings. A large number of children do not even have families or cannot count on them for support.

Many times Child Labour gets inextricably linked to other social evils like bonded labour and debt clearing. In many parts of our country, one common way of cleaning debt is to sell daughters as young as 8-10 years old, as maidservants to the creditors. Similarly, in several parts of the country, bonded fathers over 40 years of age, free themselves by transferring their sons into bondage.

Another causative factor is limited access to free basic education. Although the right to Education Act of 2009 is a huge step toward mitigating this, still a lot needs to be done for actualizing the ambitious aims of the act. There is an urgent need to ensure its earnest implementation, address issues like lack of infrastructure and ensuring strict monitoring and evaluation.

Repression of workers’ rights is another factor responsible for the continuation of Child Labour. Workers’ abilities to organise unions affect the protection of core Labour standards, including Child Labour. Repression makes it more difficult to improve Labour standards and living standards in order to eliminate Child Labour.

Countries like ours are the mechanisation of the global economy which tends to intensify the effects of other causative factors. This includes the intense inter-country competition for attracting the attention of and investments from multinational corporations, which in turn slows down Child Labour reforms so as to ensure supply of cheap labour.

Realising the gravity of the issue, the government has taken a number of steps to control and eradicate the problem of Child Labour. Chief among them being,

  1. The Factories Act Of 1948
  2. The Mines Act Of 1952
  3. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act Of 1986, amended in 2016
  4. The Juvenile Justice (care and protection) Of Children Act Of 2000
  5. The Right Of Children To Free and Compulsory Education Act Of 2009
  6. Indo-US Child Labour Project 2000
  7. International Programs On The Elimination Of Child Labour 1993
  8. National Child Labour Project – 1987

Apart from state initiatives, the roles of various NGOs have been of profound importance. NGOs like ChildLine, CARE India, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Child Rights and You (CRY) and Global March against Child Labour are doing commendable work in raising awareness on Child Labour, urging the government to carry out Child Labour reforms, rescuing children from factories and bondage.

An all-encompassing, multi-sectoral approach involving all the stakeholders is the pressing need of the hour to put an end to Child Labour. Measures mentioned below can provide a way forward,

  1. Initiatives needed from the government 
  • Honest execution of welfare functions
  • Ensure availability of basic necessities to all
  • Increase social decor spending to at least 3% of the GDP
  • Comprehensive socio-economic policies aimed at poverty allegation and raising of living standards
  • Schemes like Midday Meals, National Food Security Act and Antyodaya Anna Yojna need to be promoted, well executed and meticulously monitored
  • Focus on Skill Development so as to reduce adult unemployment. Schemes like USTAAD and Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna need to be made more inclusive
  • Labour Laws need to be reviewed and reforms need to be carried out to ensure that workers’ rights are protected and labour standards are maintained
  1. Initiatives needed from the corporates 
  • Ensure a zero tolerance policy towards Child Labour
  • Pay due diligence to supply chains and sub-contractors, making the same transparent so as to eliminate Child Labour from supply chains
  • Corporates should use their power and resources to attempt to improve conditions through their CSR norms
  • Pay heed to global best practices and frameworks devised by organisations like International labour organisation, UN, OECD and learn from international examples like- Harkin-Engel Protocol which proved the capacity of Corporates in Combating Child Labour in Cote d’Ivoire
  1. Initiatives needed from common citizens 
  • Do not employ children as domestic help and discourage others who do so
  • Be forthcoming in reporting cases of Child Labour to the authorities
  • Be aware of the various national laws, schemes and international frameworks on Combating Child Labour
  • Provide counselling to Child Labourers and /or to their parents/wards about the ill effects of Child Labour
  • Be a conscientious consumer, promote fair trade certified products, enquire retailers, manufacturers or shopkeepers if their brand is Child – Labour free certified. Go for products from organisations like Good Weave (a global network of organisations committed to ending Child Labour in Carpet and ready-made garment industry).

To sum it up Child Labour is a complex socio-economic malady, which calls for a multi-dimensional approach to its elimination. Formal initiatives by the state and its institutions need to continue. However large strides are needed for raising awareness about the vicious ill effects of Child Labour. A massive program of mass sensitization needs to be undertaken, if not, this problem will become the Bane of our nation.Sachin Adhikari

(About the Author: Sachin Adhikari, a Global Business Leader, Social Entrepreneur, an Author, a Mentor, Thinker and a Strategist. Sachin Adhikari is a firm believer that people can be empowered by Attitudinal Transformation, by building them ‘Inside-Out.’ This type of training will not only help people become successful in their careers, but also help them improve their relationships in every sphere of life. He is Founder of Global Success Foundation and Chief Global Advisor of BWW & Viztar International.)

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