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Mainstream, VOL LX No 19, New Delhi, April 30, 2022

Child Labour in India: the Hard Reality | Tarun Kumar Basu

Friday 29 April 2022


by Tarun Kumar Basu *

May Day and 75 years of Indian independence - What stops us to end slavery

A boy of below 17 years was brought from a remote village of Uttar Pradesh to Delhi with the promise of a decent job at a manufacturing unit with a monthly salary of Rs 17,000. He got a job at a cooler pump-making factory in Bawana Industrial Area. There he was made to work for hours for just Rs 50-100 per day. He was under the control of the owners and not even allowed to go outside the factory premises. This incident is not common in our country and the brutality too.

The backbone of a nation is judged by the way it treats its children. Children imply a hope to strengthen not only the economy of the country but also to provide the country with expert human resources who have access to the basic amenities essential for the existence integrated with the doctrines of the education in India. The government has taken new education policy that would be implicated within a short period. Children are always considered next to the pious versions of the God who always endeavour to bring joy, happiness and hope.

Every child deserves to be educated in school and not work in fields and factories to earn money for their families. The issue of child labour is not a new concept in the Indian context. It is judiciously described, as ‘child labour is not a problem, but a symptom only. Despite the countless policies and programmes incorporated against the issue, still there are so many loop holes that should be calcified by the government. There can be no rhyme or reason to child labour to be culminated in the society.

Defining Child Labour

Child Labour as defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is a work that takes away children their childhood, their potential and their dignity which is harmful to their physical as well as mental development. The organization also explains child labour in its most extreme forms involves children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and/or left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities — often at a very early age. Child labour is work that harms children or keeps them from attending school. The practice of having children engaged in economic activities, on part time or full time basis and deprives children of their childhood, and is harmful to their life. Child labour typically means the employment of children in any physical work with or without payment. Child labour is not only limited to our country, it happens to be a global phenomenon. UNICEF defines, a child, who is involved in child labour activities in the age bracket of 5 to 11 years, he or she did at least one hour of economic activity at least 28 hours of domestic work in a week. In case of children between 12 to 14 years of age, he or she did at least 14 hours of economic activity or at least 42 hours of economic activity and domestic work per week.

UNICEF has categorized child work into three categories:

1. Within the family- Children are engaged in domestic household tasks without pay.

2. Within the family but outside the home- Example- agricultural labourers, domestic maids, migrant labourers etc.

3. Outside the family- Example- commercial shops in restaurants and jobs, prostitution etc.

Types of Child Labour in India

1) Industrial Child Labour

Major industrial sectors such as real estate, garments, agricultures, fireworks in India are the largest employers of children below the legal age. Over 10 Million children between the age group of 5 to 14 years are working in informal or small scale industries approximately, including around 4.5 Million are girls. Unorganized sector in India is also one of the largest employers of children and the most visible too. The children of below 14 years can be seen in roadside dhabas, tea stalls, hotels and the owners of such small businesses prefer children as they are easy to handle and easy to pay little.

2) Domestic Child Labour

Domestic child labour is a widespread and growing global phenomenon. These children work day and night outside of their family homes and they are in domestic service who are under the legal minimum working age. Domestic child labours both boys and girls constitute 10% of the total child labours in India. They include both domestically employed by affluent families to look after their everyday chorus. This practice traps as many as 10 million children or more, mostly girls,in hidden forms of exploitation. Poverty is the main factor behind children being employed as domestic help. Usually the parents give their consent in hope of money and a stable shelter for their children.

3) Bonded Child Labour

The term ‘bonded labour’ has been defined by the National Commission on Labour as “labour which remains in bondage for a specific period for the debt incurred”. The Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes explained the term bonded labour in its 24th report as “persons who are forced to work for the creditors for the loan incurred either without wage or on nominal wage”.The two basic features of bonded labour are indebtedness and forced labour. Children residing in rural areas and employed in agriculture industry are more prone to this type of labour. Bonded labourers are known by different names in different parts of India. For example, in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh as ‘Halts’ in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka they are known as ‘Jeethams’.


Poverty and unemployment

The issue of poverty is a relative and apposite concept. The poor families have no other option to send their children to work to supplement the household income as they cannot afford to meet the basic needs of the children like food, proper education or health care. This is happening due to the natural disaster, climate change, low literacy rate and also the curse of pandemic. Poverty is considered to be the most important cause of child labour which is driving the children into the different sectors and it deprives children of proper education and acquiring human skills. The poor children grow as unskilled labour and earn low wages in adulthood. Poverty causes different kind of diseases or other forms of disabilities, which often causes imbalances in family earnings and forced poor parents to send their children to employment.

Natural disasters & climate change

Pandemic has led to a dramatic rise in child labour worldwide. Families who are in a financial contraction due to the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic have forced their children to earn extra income from different fields mostly from construction and manufacturing units. Once children start to work for the earnings, families come to depend on their labour. Thus they become listless about their schooling. Child labour is a direct consequence of poverty, and the real fact is that, it is closely linked to environmental degradation which is a new facet of this problem. Rural families who depend on reliable seasons for agriculture are particularly susceptible to alter the patterns of soil erosion, and rainfall.

Large Family Size:

In our country, there are many families, which are big in size with poor income, cannot lead a happy life. They cannot cope up with the present era due to low income. They can not get entertainment, dresses, better education, health care and other opportunities to grow into a healthy family environment. Seeing the lifestyle of their neighbours, they try to earn more money. According to the mentality, large families with relatively low incomes may not have happy perceptions. As a result, they neither can protect their childhood nor encourage them to go for education. If the family size is small, then they can provide all the facilities that are important for social, mental and physical development to their children.

Lack of access of quality education

The current educational infrastructure in the country providing by the government is highly unsuitable to children of economically deprived families. The education policy should be job oriented, so that when they finish their education, they can be easily employed in the sectors that suit them better. Government should pay heed attention in increasing dropout rates. It is occurred due to the quality of education and forced children to engage in jobs. Unequal access to education ensures millions of children remain trapped in child labour in India.

Social and economic backwardness

Social and economic backwardness of the country is also the main reason for child labour in India. Due to the lack of awareness of the poor family,socially backward parents do not send their children to receive education in schools. Consequently, their children are trapped in earning money and thus became child labour. Most of the parents are not aware of various information and schemes for child education provided by the country. Lack of proper education, illiteracy of their rights among them have pushed their children a child labour. . The conditions of poverty and alarming unemployment give rural families a compulsive basis for engaging children in various jobs.

Previous Debts:

The economically backward people in India are often trapped in debt. The Illiterate people go to money lenders and mortgage their belongings in turn of the debt taken by them. But debtors find it very difficult to pay back the debt with interest as they have insufficient income. This ruthless circle of poverty drags them towards working day and night for the creditor. As a result of this the debtors enforced their children too in assisting them for the recovery of debts. Due to the poor economic infrastructure of the country and poor monetary status of the people in India impels them to borrow cash. This endless loop of destitution attracts them to work day and night laboriously

Addiction, disease or disability

The poor family members often trapped into addiction and due to that addiction, disease or disability, there is no earning, and the child’s wages are the sole means of family’s sustenance. Population growth is also increasing unemployment, which has adverse impact on child labour prevention. So, parents, instead of sending their children to school, are willing to send them to work to increase family income.

Statistics: A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF concerns that 9 million additional children are at the risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022in entire world, as a result of the pandemic. 1 in every 10 worker in India is a child. A child who is guaranteed protections under the Indian Law, and guaranteed an education and mid-day meals, till the age of 14. As per Census in 2011, the total child population in India in the age group (5-14) years is 259.6 million. Of these, 10.1 million means 3.9% of total child population are working, either as ‘main worker’ or as ‘marginal worker’ in the country. In addition, more than 42.7 million children in India are out of school. Uttar Pradesh has highest child labour cases in India. As per the latest study, more than half of working children in India are concentrated in five states mainly in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. These states account for more than 55 lakh of child labours. Out of these five states, only Uttar Pradesh has witnessed a growth in child labour by 13 per cent with one out of five child labourers in India belonging to the state of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. However, the development is that the incidence of child labour has decreased in India by 2.6 million between 2001 and 2011. But these numbers might not portray the whole picture. Millions of children labourers remain invisible, who are employed in homes as domestic help, and paid wages that are nowhere near those stipulated by Indian Law

Constitutional /legal provisions against child labour in the country

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 : Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986, was the culmination of efforts and ideas that emerged from the deliberations and recommendations of various committees on child labour. Significant among them are National Commission on Labour (1966-69), Gurupadaswamy Committee on Child Labour (1979), and Sanat Mehta Committee (1984). The basic objective of the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986, is to ban the employment of children below the age of 14 years in factories, mines and hazardous employments, and to regulate the working conditions of children in other employments.

The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in hazardous occupations identified in a list by the law. The list was expanded in 2006, and again in 2008.

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016: This amendment act completely prohibits the employment of children below 14 years. The amendments also provides a punishment for employers for violation of the act and making the offence of recruiting any child or adolescent in contravention of the act by an employer as cognizable.

The 1948 Factories Act: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory in the country under section 67.

The Mines Act 1953: Section 40 of this act prohibits the employment of any individual below the age of 18, in any mine or part thereof, that includes above or below ground. Mining being one of the most dangerous occupations, which in the past has led to many major accidents taking life of children is completely banned for them.

The Bonded Labour (Abolishment) System Act of 1976: The government has adopted several laws in the past few decades to eliminate child labour. These laws include. The Ministry of Labour and Employment has also implemented numerous projects to rehabilitate child workers since the late 1980s

Article 21 A - Right to Education: The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age 6 to 14 years in such manner as the state, by law, may determine.

Article 24 – Prohibition of employment of children in factories, etc.: No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed in work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardousemployment.

Article 39 - The state shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing: That the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000 : This law made it a crime, punishable with a prison term, for anyone to procure or employ a child in any hazardous employment.

The Right of Children to free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009: The law mandates free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14 years. This legislation also mandated that 25% of seats in every Private School must be allocated for children from disadvantaged groups and physically challenged children.

How Can we Stop Child Labour in India?

Encourage the Right to Education

Free education for every child has been mentioned in Indian constitution that is below the age of 14 years. Every child in India has the right to get proper an education. Education is one of the main weapons to fight against child labour. The families below the poverty line do not allow their children to go to school for education because of their mentality. They think that earning is important for the livelihood of the family. The government and other organization are encouraging the poor families to send their children to schools. More encouraging programmes should be taken and to restrict school drop outs.

Spread awareness

Programs should be taken to aware parents is very essential for the schooling of their children. Due to the unawareness, traffickers prey upon children of the rural areas and brought them to different sectors as child labour. Child trafficking should be completely abolished by the governments of all countries. Child labour needs high level social awareness with the proper statistics of huge loss in the future for the country as children are the backbone of the society. Several campaigns organized by the NGOs and the government in the country especially in the rural areas. The drive was aimed at creating awareness among the poor and big size families and identify children in affected areas and rehabilitate them by admitting them to schools. Discouraging people to employ children in factories, shops etc. Child labour gets a resounding approval when the owners of the factories, malls, roadside dhabas openly encourage this evils. Government as well as NGOs today sensitise organisations to end this social evil, and educate locals to emphasize for school education.

More stringent laws and effective implementation

Government policies should be more stringent, besides stricter punishment. Research of NGOs showcase findings regarding exploited children, and use case studies to establish how their work benefits child labour. Driving policy-level change requires relationships with several stakeholders like lawmakers, citizens, intellectuals etc. Government should set up audit teams for investigation and data collection from the industries where child labours work. If awareness about the child labour is spread across the nation and strict policing of implementation of existing laws are done, India can control the issue of Child Labour.

* (Author: Tarun Kumar Basu is a free-lance journalist)

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