Introduction to Child Labour
Children are considered to be the incarnation of innocence in a human embodiment. Undisturbed by materialistic considerations, children are the purest forms of mankind. It is correctly said that the fate of a country can be well determined by the condition of its children and women. However, their childhood innocence, purity and morality get snatched away when they are forced to work and earn a livelihood. Child labour is one of the oldest and most prominent problems that India which is the home to the world’s largest youth population faces. Even though several legislations have been put in place by the lawmakers of the country, child labour is still widespread in a number of areas, especially the rural areas in India.
Above the age of 14, the participation of children in work that does not affect their health and mental well-being or interfere with their schooling is generally regarded as being something positive. Activities like these include assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families and they provide them with skills and experience and help to prepare them to be responsible citizens of society during their adult life.
Article 24 of the Indian constitution states that “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment.” The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 delegates a child as a person who has not completed their 14th year of age. It aims to regulate the working conditions and the working hours of child workers and to prohibit child workers from being employed in hazardous industries.
The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their potential, their childhood and their dignity and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children, which interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school and obliging them to leave school prematurely or requires them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.
Whether or not particular forms of work can be called child labour depends on the child’s age, the hours and type of work performed by them, the conditions under which it is executed and the purpose pursued by independent countries. The answer differs from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.
Types of child labour in India
There is a rise in the involvement of children in the informal sector and home-based work. Children are involved in the agricultural sector, manual, domestic, in hazardous factories, matchbox, rag-picking, brick kilns, beedi-rolling, etc. The worst forms of child labour involve children being enslaved, separated from their families, exposed to serious hazards and illnesses and left to fend for themselves on the streets of large cities often at a very early age. According to ILO, the worst types of child labour are slavery, Child Trafficking, Debt Bondage, Serfdom, Forced Labour, and Beggary.
National Policy on Child Labour
The National Policy on Child Labour, August 1987 contains the action plan for addressing the menace of child labour. It envisages: (a) A legislative action plan (b) Focusing and convergence of general development programmes for benefiting children wherever possible, and (c) a Project-based action plan of action for the launching of projects for the welfare of working children.
The NCLP Scheme was started in 1988 in pursuance of the National Child Labour Policy to rehabilitate child labour. The scheme seeks to embrace a sequential approach with a focus on rehabilitating children working in hazardous occupations & processes. Under this scheme after a survey of adolescent labours engaged in hazardous occupations & processes has been conducted, the children are to be withdrawn from these positions and then put into special schools in order to enable them to be put into the formal schooling system.
Legislative Action Plan for strict enforcement of the Child Labour Act and other labour laws to ensure that children are not employed in hazardous jobs and that the working conditions of children working in non-hazardous areas are regulated with respect to the provisions of the Child Labour Act.
The government has accordingly taken steps to tackle this problem through strict enforcement of legislative provisions along with numerous rehabilitative measures. State Governments have been conducting regular inspections and raids to detect cases of gross violations. Since poverty is the root cause of almost all the problems so the government has been laying a lot of emphasis on the rehabilitation of these children and on improving the socio-economic conditions of their families.
Right to Education Bill
In 2009, the government of India made a move of wide-ranging significance by introducing the Right to Education Bill. The implementation of this Act at the grassroots level is the main source of the eradication of the problem of child labour that has infected India for centuries.
Rehabilitation of Children Working in Hazardous Occupations
The government of India launched this program to remove children from working in hazardous occupations and to further rehabilitate them by setting up special schools. Under the program, a total of two million children are hoped to be brought out of work and put in schools where they are provided with monthly stipends, vocational training, nutrition, education and health checkups.
Landscaping Prevalence and Trends in Child Work and schooling and their Intersection in India.
This census data shows that, between 2001 and 2011, child work in India decreased, both in terms of magnitude (numbers). While this is a positive trend, more than 10 million children were still working, and although there was a significant drop in child work rates in rural areas, over the same period numbers of child workers actually increased in urban areas. In rural areas, over 70 per cent of child workers were engaged in agriculture. However, low incomes and the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas continue to be the reason for pushing families out of their rural homes. This internal migration and the related growth of new census towns may account for some of the increased incidences of child work in urban areas.
Children who work often leave school early. The reasons for both include poverty, lack of access to education and gender-related social pressures. Girls mostly face difficulties in entering and remaining in school because of factors like early marriage and the demands of domestic responsibilities in their own homes. In various places, girls have very less opportunities in the labour market and they are confined to a narrow range of occupations when compared to boys.
Role of Education in controlling child labour
Getting accurate, detailed information about the involvement of children in laborious work has always been difficult. These activities often involve violations of laws and regulations, information may be difficult to gather and suppressed intentionally. Much of the work is concentrated in informal sectors, such as agriculture and home-based production units in urban areas. These activities are difficult to monitor and hard for researchers to access. Children in these sectors are often not visible. This explains why this kind of family-based employment of children is often not included in the studies as child labour. However, greater scrutiny and awareness among consumers are likely to have a positive impact. Indeed, there is evidence of an overall decline in child involvement in the WFCL over the last decade. Other factors, such as increased access to education, are also likely to be relevant and can be leveraged to accelerate progress. Although this represents a positive trend, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has the possibility of reversing recent progress in this area with children having to take on any work to support families in severe economic hardship.
The Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act 1986 prohibits the engagement of children under the age of 14 years in all occupations, and of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes.
However, this definition effectively excludes children who are working as family carers or in family enterprises. In agriculture and home-based industries, where payment is directly linked to output (e.g. the harvest, the number of beedis rolled or a number of caps embroidered), it is likely that children’s contribution is legally and statistically invisible, as their contribution is often included within that of the household adults. This in turn makes it harder to determine the true prevalence of child labour in India.
The five states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh account for nearly 55 per cent of all working children in India. National Sample Survey data for 2011-12 provides further insights about child work by age group, gender, caste, religion and economic quintiles. As might be expected, a higher proportion of 15–17-year-olds are working, compared with 5–14-year-olds. A higher proportion of male adolescents are working than female adolescents. However, this needs to be considered in the context of the fact that care work, sibling care and household chores – tasks more likely to be undertaken by females – are excluded from this definition of child work.
The educational strategies that might directly or indirectly, have an impact on child labour are as follows:
• Household level – These are programmes designed to incentivise households to send children to school, by reducing both the direct and indirect cost of schooling. They can involve monetary or nonmonetary transfers and include conditional incentives that are where an incentive is provided for children attending and continuing in school and unconditional incentives, such as free midday meals for all children.
• School level – These are programmes focused on increasing access to schools, primarily by expanding the number of available places at primary and secondary levels. Other initiatives in this category include the introduction of residential schools, particularly for girls, and programmes focused on helping children who have never been to school often because they have been involved in child labour. The National Child Labour Project (NCLP) which was started in 1988 by the Government of India focused on helping children who have never been to school because they have been involved in child labour.
• Community and employer level – There are strategies that aim to reduce child labour by changing perceptions and attitudes within the community not only about child labour but also about the value of education and female empowerment.
Child labour rates are not driven by any one factor, but rather by the whole ‘ecology’ of a place: parental illiteracy, prevalent social norms, lack of functioning and accessible schools and economic circumstances.
• Free midday meals and textbooks are designed to be universal strategies. Midday meal programmes have been widely evaluated but evaluations have concentrated on aspects such as nutrition or the delivery process and the quality of food. While limited, available evidence indicates a positive influence on school attendance. Free textbooks are usually perceived as an essential element of schooling rather than an incentive so attendance impacts of interventions providing such materials as rarely assessed. Available feedback suggests there are frequent delays in the delivery of free textbooks, making them less effective as an incentive.
• Many household-level programmes are targeted at groups considered educationally disadvantaged. For example, a number of States have introduced bicycle distribution schemes at the secondary level to address the issue of non-availability of affordable transport.
• Many states have introduced conditional cash transfer (CCT) schemes for girls, linking cash transfers to the continuation of education and not getting married before turning 18 years old. Evidence shows that in some instances these have encouraged secondary school continuation but not necessarily complete. The impact on child labour rates is not clear. Available evidence also suggests that these schemes have no impact on social norms.
• Overall, there is limited rigorous evidence on the impact of household-level schemes on the decision to stay in school. Accessibility both in terms of school places and transport plus perceived quality and potential economic returns of education emerged as key factors moderating the impact of household-level interventions.
• Access to schools has improved in the last two to three decades, especially at primary and upper primary levels. However, the spread of secondary schools is still uneven.
• The introduction of fully-funded residential schools, where all expenses on food, uniform, tuition and transport are covered, has been highly successful in terms of keeping girls from marginalized and poor households in education. It may also have a longer-term impact on social norms regarding labour, marriage and mobility.
• There are a number of government and NGO programmes targeted at helping children who have either never been to school or have dropped out to get back into formal education. However, it appears that many children who are admitted to mainstream education from one of these bridge programmes face subtle discrimination and isolation once in school.
• The NCLP, which started in 1988, initially focused on running special schools for children aged 5-14 who had been engaged in labour in high-incidence districts. The evaluation found that the project had succeeded in bringing a large number of working children into schooling. However, it has been implemented inconsistently across locations. Since 2016, the NCLP has extended its focus to include work with adolescents employed in hazardous industries.
• India has the world’s largest system of providing secondary and senior secondary education through open and distance learning. Although it covers less than 2 per cent of enrolled students at that level, it has been recognized as especially relevant for working children and for adults who missed schooling in their early years. Access to technology remains a barrier.
Community and employer-based/-focused interventions
• Several NGOs have adopted an approach of working with diverse stakeholders in a local area to develop programmes that reflect the local context. Adopting the tools of social mobilisation, community awareness, and advocacy with employers, have helped create public awareness about child labour and related issues and shifted local opinion against child labour as a result.
• NGOs also offer vocational training and bridge courses and engage with adolescents to influence their participation in child labour. Some NGOs have found adolescent collectives to be an effective means of empowering young women. These programmes engage relatively less frequently with boys.
• Although these NGO schemes appear effective, they are generally small in scale. By contrast, government schemes are generally large in scale and therefore not necessarily responsive to local needs.
• An example of a Government initiative is Mahila Samakhya (MS), a programme which also used adolescent collectives to increase women’s empowerment.
• Another Government initiative is Pencil (Platform for Effective Enforcement for No Child Labour), an online portal set up by the Ministry of Labour and Employment to register complaints regarding illegal employment of children in work from all over India. While there is some evidence of success, it has not been subject to rigorous evaluation.
Although there have been efforts from both Government and NGOs to eradicate and prevent child labour through educational strategies in India, it is not clear how effective these have been. Evaluation and further research are vital. It, therefore, appears that breaking the social norms around practices such as child marriage or child labour is important for the design and details of any strategy.
The available evidence indicates that the nature and causes of child labour may vary from state to state and from district to district. While poverty is an important cause, that alone does not explain the variation. A better understanding of the problem helps in identifying more suitable strategies; where poverty is not the main reason, approaches other than cash or non-cash transfers are needed.
Areas where further research
• mapping the prevalence of child labour against the availability of accessible schools, to provide greater evidence about whether access to education in itself reduces child labour
• developing a deeper understanding of the nature and patterns of child labour in relation to caste, class, gender, social norms and economic opportunities;
• reviewing and refining the definition of child labour backed by surveys that show the different numbers based on different definitions;
• conducting research into the needs of adolescent boys. Although there is clear evidence from across the globe that adolescent boys from marginalized backgrounds are more likely to drop out of school and join work early, the research in India has not explored this issue enough; and
• evaluating existing strategies more robustly in terms of their outcomes on child labour.
It is time to retain child labour in the history books and allow all children to realise their rights. The ‘School is the best place to work’ campaign makes us believe that child labour is harmful to a child’s development and it affects full-time quality education. The main cue to eliminate child labour is practical action and political motivation. Child labour is a huge issue in our modern-day world that not only harshly ravages the lives of millions of innocent and naïve children but also affects us all through its effects on the family, trade and the economy along with its connections to poverty and poor education. Letting this horrific and inhumane practice go on for so long has brought on an unexpected problem that we must solve in order to protect the children and safeguard their future. Although some may disagree child labour is without a doubt a prevalent issue so we must all help in any way possible so that we can bring an end to this abomination once and for all.
- “Child Labour Crisis in Diamond Industry”. BBC News. 26 October 1999. Retrieved 8 September 2009., “A future without child labour” (PDF). The International Labour Organization, Geneva. 2002. ISBN 92-2-112416-9, “India: Freeing the Small Hands of the Silk Industry”. (Germany). 2010, Tainted Carpets: Slavery and Child Labor in India’s Hand-Made Carpet Sector, Enforcing the ban”. The Hindu. Chennai, India. 20 October 2006. Retrieved 20 October 2009., “Modern slavery and child labour in Indian quarries – Stop Child Labour
- People’s Union for Democratic Rights and others Vs. Union of India and others,1982
- Hemant Goswami vs. Union of India, CWP 2693 of 2010/ 9968 of 2009
- “Save the Children India | Statistics of Child Labour in India State Wise
- “Save the Children India | Statistics of Child Labour in India State Wise”
- “Child Labour | UNICEF”
- The magnitude of Child Labour in India Archived 8 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine Table 12, Section 8.12, Government of India
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