New Delhi: Child labour in India is a tragic reality borne out of various social and economic factors. It is one of the main reasons why children are denied a normal childhood and right to education.
Although employing children below 14 years, except in family businesses and entertainment industry (except circuses), is outlawed in India, millions of children still continue to work as labourers in factories, shops, hotels, among other places.
United Nations considers “any work carried out to detriment and engage children (5-14 years) is violation of international law and national legislation and if the work deprives them of schooling or puts them under dual burden of schooling and work is child labour”.
On 12 June 2002, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) started the World Day Against Child Labour to highlight the plight of child labourers and take required measures to eliminate it. The ILO has suggested different measures to tackle and eliminate child labour by 2025. It recommended facilitating greater access to free and quality public education, and building and extending social protection systems, among others.
The ILO, this year, celebrates 100 years of support extended to different countries for ending child labour. The theme this year is ‘Children shouldn’t work in fields but on dreams’.
On the World Day Against Child Labour, ThePrint takes a look at the child labour figures in India, and the laws and measures dealing with the issue.
What do the numbers say?
Child labour figures in India are dismal. This year, India is at the 113th position out of the 176 countries on an index that evaluates countries on the well-being of children. Last year, India ranked 116.
According to Census 2011, around 259.6 million children in India are employed as labourers. Of these, 10.1 million are working as either ‘main labourer’ or as ‘marginal worker’.
Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh constitute around 55 per cent of the total child labourers in India. The Lakshadweep archipelago has the least number of child labourers at 28, followed by Daman Diu at 774.
According to The International Organisation of Scientific Research (IOSR), “Populous states are having the most number of child labourers and the least populous state have contributed less to the ranks of child labourers.”
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 251 cases were reported under the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act,1986, in 2015.
Maharashtra reported the most number of child labour cases at 96, followed by Delhi at 57 and Karnataka at 37. The NCRB reported a staggering 70.7 per cent increase in child labour cases from 147 in 2014 to 257 in 2015.
Global statistics are glaring too. In 2012, the global figure of child labour stood at 168 million with Asia-Pacific having the largest number of child labourers.
Indian laws dealing with child labour
India has the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, that prohibits “the engagement of children in all occupations and of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes” wherein adolescents refers to those under 18 years and children to those under 14. The law states no child should be employed except when he or she helps his family after school hours or during vacations.
The law punishes anyone who employs or permits adolescents to work with a jail term of two years, besides a fine of Rs 50,000.
But, the law has flaws too. Founder of Noida-based NGO My Perch, Kamya Dargan, said, “Lot of measures have been taken at national and international levels to tackle this problem, but I feel there are some loopholes in the law. The law allows the children to work for parents and relatives; but the parents themselves are heavily misusing this. They want their child to work instead of studying, even when not required, so that he can bring in some money.”
India also has a National Policy on Child Labour (1987) and Right to Education Act to ensure that children go to schools and are not get engaged in labour.
Besides, the 86th Amendment to the Constitution, 2002, aims to provide free and compulsory education to children of age group 6 to 14 years.
Multiple schemes have been implemented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to elevate the conditions of children. These broadly include ‘National Charter for Children’ adopted on 9 February 2004, which emphasises India’s commitment to various child rights such as their right to survival, health, education and standard of living.
The setting up of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was yet another big move. It works under the aegis of the women and child development ministry. The mandate of the NCPCR is “to ensure that all laws, policies, programmes, and administrative mechanisms are in consonance with the Child Rights perspective as enshrined in the Constitution of India and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
The ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’, the dream project of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, was launched in 2001 to provide free and compulsory education to children between 6 and 14 years.
The problem of child labour remains so daunting that the United Nations in its Sustainable Development Goals 8.7 called on the global community to: “Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”.