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Scourge Of Child Labour:NEED TO RAISE JOBS, LITERACY LEVEL, by Dr. Vinod Mehta,12 July 2007 Print E-mail

Economic Highlights

New Delhi, 12 July 2007

Scourge Of Child Labour


By Dr. Vinod Mehta

Most of the shops in the metropolitan cities are displaying the following notice in their show windows, “We do not sell products made by child labour.” Whether they really do so or not is very difficult to check but the very fact that they are displaying these signs shows that they are aware of the rights of child.

Child labour is a worldwide phenomenon but India has the largest number of child labourers in the world. Studies by various NGOs reveal shockingly high levels of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse among children working as domestic helpers. According to the National Sample Survey Organization, nearly 16.4 million Indian children aged 5-14 years are engaged in economic activities and domestic or non-remunerative work. The World Bank puts that figure at 44 million.

Many international agencies concerned with welfare of children have been asking India to eliminate child labour. The country has taken steps to tackle this problem but we have still to go a long way. It is acknowledged the world over that children should not be made to take up economic activity. But there is no answer to this problem.

The Second National Commission on Labour had gone into this problem in detail. It begins with the question as to what constitutes child labour. Does a child chasing goats or cows or a very young girl washing utensils, carrying a pot of water or minding her younger brother constitute child labour? Or do children rolling beedis, working in a glass factory, match-making or carpet weaving constitute child labour?

These issues have been debated for a very long time in this country. It is generally agreed that children helping in household work, family work or working as an apprentice to learn craft skills do not constitute child labour. But children working in factories, dhabas with a view to earning money are considered as child labour.

Regarding the statistical profile of child labour in the country while the 1991 census puts the number at 11.28 million, the 50th round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) conducted in 1993-94 estimated the child labour population at 13.5 million. There are about 74 million children who are neither enrolled in schools nor accounted for in the labour force and come under the category of “Nowhere Children”.

The National Commission on Labour further points out that the incidence of child labour is more rural than urban. More than 90.87 per cent of the working children are in the rural areas and are employed in agricultural and allied activities. Namely, cultivation, agricultural labour, livestock, forestry and fisheries account for 85 per cent of child labour.

In the urban informal sector (unorganized) child labour is found in small-scale cottage industries, in dhabas, restaurants, workshops, domestic service and on the streets. Children working in the manufacturing, servicing and repairs account for 8.7 per cent of the urban child labour force, out of this only 0.8 per cent works in factories. About 2 million children are engaged in employment, which is characterized as hazardous. In certain communities where social and caste factors are important bonded child labour is also present.

The National Commission also found that the incidence of child labour is high amongst SC and ST and agricultural labourers. As for the States, child labour is predominant in the States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and is mainly found in poor areas and among disadvantaged and marginalized groups of societies. There is no appreciable predominance of male or female children in the child labour population.  Male children constitute 54.28 per cent and females 45.18 per cent of the total child labour.

The Central Government has already banned the employment of children below the age of 14 in 13 hazardous occupations and 57 risky processes as per “Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986. The hazardous occupation cover automobile workshops and garages, slaughter houses, foundries, handling of the toxic or inflammable substances or explosives, handloom and power-loom industries, mines and collieries, plastic units and fibre glass factories. The risky processes cover beedi-making, carpet weaving, agarbati manufacturing, gem cutting and polishing, lock making, bangle making, brassware making and zari making. 

Importantly, the Government is doing its best to tackle and eliminate child labour. Under the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) started in 1987 special schools have been set up to provide non-formal and formal education, vocational training, stipend, health check up and supplementary nutrition to the children withdrawn from jobs. The Government was hopeful that through such measures it would be able to eliminate child labour by the end of 10th Plan, i.e., 2007. The Tenth Plan has ended but there is no word on it from the Government. 

However, looking at the size of the problem it is unlikely that Government laws and Government-supported projects will be able to eliminate child labour. It is for the society at large and the community at the local level to ensure that children are sent to schools and not to the labour market.

True, there are a number of reasons which forces parents to send their children to work as child labourers. The main reason is poverty which compels them to push their children to contribute to the family income. Secondly, the poor families are not educated enough to understand the implications of sending their small children to work.

Most of the researches have shown that a family which has crossed the threshold of the poverty line and where the women have become literate, those families are conscious enough not to send their children to join the labour market but to send them to schools.

Therefore, efforts should be made to generate more jobs and raise the literacy level of the poor families so that it obviates the need for the parents to push their child to the labour market and also sensitizes the family to send their child to school.

There is also an urgent need to educate the employers not to employ children in their factories or service centres. Since the wages paid to the child labour are much lower than the ones paid to the adult labour, employers would always find it economical to employ a child worker rather than an adult worker. Laws or no laws.

Clearly, we will have to make the employees conscious of the fact that a child’s place is in school and not in a factory or a farm as a labourer.  There should be a moral code of conduct among employers not to employ child workers. ----- INFA

(Copyright India News and Feature Alliance)




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