Child labour is the practice of having children engage in economic activity, on part or full-time basis. The practice deprives children of their childhood, and is harmful to their physical and mental development. Poverty, lack of good schools and growth of informal economy are considered as the important causes of child labour in India.
The 2001 national census of India estimated the total number of child labour, aged 5–14, to be at 12.6 million, out of a total child population of 253 million in 5-14 age group.The child labour problem is not unique to India; worldwide, about 217 million children work, many full-time.
Indias Census 2001 office defines child labor as participation of a child less than 17 years of age in any economically productive activity with or without compensation, wages or profit. Such participation could be physical or mental or both. This work includes part-time help or unpaid work on the farm, family enterprise or in any other economic activity such as cultivation and milk production for sale or domestic consumption. Indian government classifies child laborers into two groups: Main workers are those who work 6 months or more per year. And marginal child workers are those who work at any time during the year but less than 6 months in a year.
Child labour laws in India Section 12 of Indias Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 requires prominent display of child labour is prohibited signs in many industries and construction sites in local language and English. Above a sign at a construction site in Bangalore.
After its independence from colonial rule, India has passed a number of constitutional protections and laws on child labour. The Constitution of India in the Fundamental Rights and the Directive of State Policy prohibits child labour below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine or castle or engaged in any other hazardous employment (Article 24). The constitution also envisioned that India shall, by 1960, provide infrastructure and resources for free and compulsory education to all children of the age six to 14 years. (Article 21-A and Article 45).
India has a federal form of government, and child labour is a matter on which both the central government and country governments can legislate, and have. The major national legislative developments include the following:
1. The Factories Act of 1948: The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory. The law also placed rules on who, when and how long can pre-adults aged 15–18 years be employed in any factory. 2. The Mines Act of 1952: The Act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine. 3. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986: 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. 4. 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 or in bondage. 5. 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 percent of seats in every private school must be allocated for children from disadvantaged groups and physically challenged children.
India formulated a National Policy on Child Labour in 1987. This Policy seeks to adopt a gradual & sequential approach with a focus on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations. It envisioned strict enforcement of Indian laws on child labour combined with development programs to address the root causes of child labour such as poverty. In 1988, this led to the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) initiative. This legal and development initiative continues, with a current central government funding of INR 6 billion, targeted solely to eliminate child labour in India.Despite these efforts, child labour remains a major challenge for India.
Consequences of child labour
A young fruit seller in streets of Kolkata The presence of a large number of child labourers is regarded as a serious issue in terms of economic welfare. Children who work fail to get necessary education. They do not get the opportunity to develop physically, intellectually, emotionally and psychologically.In terms of the physical condition of children, children are not ready for long monotous work because they become exhausted more quickly than adults. This reduces their physical conditions and makes the children more vulnerable to disease.Children in hazardous working conditions are even in worse condition.Children who work, instead of going to school, will remain illiterate which limits their ability to contribute to their own well being as well as to community they live in. Child labour has long term adverse effects for India.
To keep an economy prospering, a vital criteria is to have an educated workforce equipped with relevant skills for the needs of the industries. The young labourers today, will be part of India’s human capital tomorrow. Child labour undoubtedly results in a trade-off with human capital accumulation.Child labour in India are employed with the majority (70%) in agriculture some in low-skilled labour-intensive sectors such as sari weaving or as domestic helpers, which require neither formal education nor training, but some in heavy industry such as coal mining.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are tremendous economic benefits for developing nations by sending children to school instead of work. Without education, children do not gain the necessary skills such as English literacy and technical aptitude that will increase their productivity to enable them to secure higher-skilled jobs in future with higher wages that will lift them out of poverty.
Diamond industry In the year 1999, the International Labour Organisation co-published a report with Universal Alliance of Diamond Workers, a trade union.The ILO report claimed that child labour is prevalent in the Indian diamond industry. International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in a separate 1997 press release observed that child labour continued to flourish in Indias diamond industry.Not everyone agreed with these claims. The South Gujarat Diamond Workers Association, another trade union, acknowledged child labour is present but it is not systematic, is less than 1% and against local industry norms. Local diamond industry businessmen too downplayed these charges.
According to the 1999 ILO paper,India annually cuts and polishes 70 per cent of the world’s diamonds by weight, or 40 per cent by value. Additionally, India contributes 95 percent of the emeralds, 85 percent of the rubies, and 65 percent of the sapphires worldwide. India processes these diamonds and gems using traditional labour-intensive methods. About 1.5 million people are employed in the diamond industry, mostly in the unorganized sector. The industry is fragmented into small units, each employing a few workers. The industry has not scaled up, organised, and big operators absent. The ILO paper claims that this is to avoid the complex labour laws of India. The export order is split, work is subcontracted through many middlemen, and most workers do not know the name of enterprise with the export order. In this environment, claims the ILO report, exact number of child labourers in Indias diamond and gem industry is unknown; they estimate that child labourers in 1997 were between 10,00 to 20,00 out of 1.5 million total workers (about 1 in 100). The ILO report claims the causes for child labour include parents who send their children to work because they see education as expensive, education quality offering no real value, while artisan work in diamond and gem industry to be more remunerative as the child grows up.
A more recent study from 2005, conducted at 663 manufacturing units at 21 different locations in Indias diamond and gem industry, claims incidence rates of child labour have dropped to 0.31%.
Fireworks manufacture The town of Sivakasi in South India has been reported to employ child labour in the production of fireworks.In 2011, Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu was home to over 9,500 firecracker factories and produced almost 100 percent of total fireworks output in India.The fireworks industry employed about 150,000 people at an average of 15 employees per factory. Most of these were in unorganised sector, with a few registered and organised companies.
In 1989, Shubh Bhardwaj reported that child labour is present in Indias fireworks industry, and safety practices poor. Child labour is common in small shed operation in the unorganized sector. Only 4 companies scaled up and were in the organised sector with over 250 employees; the larger companies did not employ children and had superior safety practices and resources. The child labour in small, unorganised sector operations suffered long working hours, low wages, unsafe conditions and tiring schedules.
A more recent 2002 report by International Labour Organisation claims that child labour is significant in Tamil Nadus fireworks, matches or incense sticks industries. However, these children do not work in the formal economy and corporate establishments that produce for export. The child labourers in manufacturing typically toil in supply chains producing for the domestic market of fireworks, matches or incense sticks. The ILO report claims that as the demand for these products has grown, the formal economy and corporate establishments have not expanded to meet the demand, rather home-based production operations have mushroomed. This has increased the potential of child labour. Such hidden operations make research and effective action difficult, suggests ILO.
Silk manufacture A 2003 Human Rights Watch report claims children as young as five years old are employed and work for up to 12 hours a day and six to seven days a week in silk industry.These children, claims, are bonded labour; even though the government of India denies existence of bonded child labour, these silk industry child are easy to find in Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, claims Children are forced to dip their hands in scalding water to palpate the cocoons and are often paid less than Rs 10 per day.
In 2010, a German news investigative report claimed that in states like Karnataka, non-governmental organisations had found up to 10,000 children working in the 1,000 silk factories in 1998. In other places, thousands of bonded child labourers were present in 1994. But today, after UNICEF and NGOs got involved, child labour figure is drastically lower, with the total estimated to be fewer than a thousand child labourers. The released children were back in school, claims the report.
Carpet weaving Siddartha Kara finds about 20% of carpets manufactured in India could involve child labour. He notes, "determining the extent to which the hand-made carpet supply chain from India to the U.S.A. is tainted by slavery and child labor requires an additional exercise in supply chain tracing."Karas study also finds variation in child labour practices between ethnic and religious groups. Kara and colleagues report highest level of child labour in Muslim community carpet operations,and the presence of debt bonded child labourers in Muslim villages.
Domestic labour Official estimates for child labour working as domestic labour and in restaurants is more than 2,500,000 while NGOs estimate the figure to be around 20 million.The Government of India expanded the coverage of The Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act and banned the employment of children as domestic workers and as workers in restaurants, dhabas, hotels, spas and resorts effective from 10 October 2006.
Coal mining Despite laws enacted in 1952 prohibiting employment of people under the age of 18 in the mines primitive coal mines in Meghalaya using child labour were discovered and exposed by the international media in 2013.
Initiatives against child labour In 1979, the Indian government formed the Gurupadswamy Committee to find about child labour and means to tackle it. The Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act was not enacted based on the recommendations of the committee in 1986. A National Policy on Child Labour was formulated in 1987 to focus on rehabilitating children working in hazardous occupations.The Ministry of Labour and Employment had implemented around 100 industry-specific National Child Labour Projects to rehabilitate the child workers since 1988.
Non-governmental organisations Many NGOs like Bachpan Bachao Andolan, CARE India, Talaash Association Child Rights and You, Global march against child labour, RIDE India etc. have been working to eradicate child labour in India.
Pratham is Indias largest non-governmental organisation with the mission every child in school and learning well. Founded in 1994, Pratham has aimed to reduce child labour and offer schooling to children irrespective of their gender, religion and social background. It has grown by introducing low cost education models that are sustainable and reproducible.
Child labour has also been a subject of public interest litigations in Indian courts.