India is home to the largest child population in the world. ‘Child Labour’, as defined by the International Labour Organization, refers to work that leads to the deprivation of one’s childhood and education opportunities. Effects include a loss of potential and dignity in self, which is harmful to a child’s physical and mental development. The term child labour is defined as ‘the work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity and, that is harmful to their physical and mental development’.
The definition of a child as given under Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986defines, ‘child means a person who has not completed his fourteen years of age’, however, mere defining this can’t solve the issue. The Union Cabinet has approved a proposal for amending the Act, to ban employment of children aged up to 14 in any form of industry. It will be an offence to employ such children not only in factories or industries, but also in home or farms, if their labour is meant to serve any commercial interest. The Cabinet also approved another amendment to define those children aged 14-18 as ‘adolescents’ and prohibit their employment in mines, explosive industries, chemical and paint industries, and other hazardous establishments. The government’s decision is in line with the convention of the International Labour Organization (ILO), which prohibits any form of child labour until the age of 14.
According to HAQ(meaning Rights in Urdu): Centre for child rights, child labour is most prevalent among schedule tribes, Muslims, schedule castes, and OBC children. The persistence of child labour is due to the inefficiency of the law, administrative system, and because it benefits employers who can reduce general wage levels. HAQ argues that distinguishing between hazardous and non-hazardous employment is counter-productive to the elimination of child labour. Various growing concerns have pushed children out of school and into employment such as forced displacement due to development projects, such as Dam construction at Narmada and Tihri; loss of jobs of parents due to economic slowdown, farmers' suicide; armed conflict, and high costs of health care. Girl child is often used in domestic labour within her own family. There is a lack of political will to outlaw the child labour. Following are the conditions, under which an activity shall be recognized as child labour:
• is mentally, physically, socially, or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and
• interferes with their schooling by:
I. depriving them of the opportunity to attend school;
II. obliging them to leave school prematurely; or
III. Requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.
Articles related to Child labour in India
1. Article 14 (No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other dangerous employment.
2. Article 39-E ( The state shall 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 they are not forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuitable to their area and strength.
3. Article 39-F (Children shall be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity, and that childhood and youth shall be protected against moral and material abandonment.
4. Article 45 (The state shall endeavor to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of the constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years. The main legislative measures at the national level are The Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act – 1986 and The Factories Act – 1948.
Causes of child labour in India
Poverty can be termed as the main reason for child labour in India. Though the country has achieved commendable progress in industrialization, the benefits of the same have not been effectively passed on to the lower strata of society. In order to keep costs down, even large companies employ unorganized workers through contractors, who get uneducated and unskilled and semi-skilled people at very low wages.
This helps the industries to keep their labour costs down at the cost of the poor labourers. In effect, what happens is that, the children of these poor unorganized labourers have to find some work to help run the family. They cannot afford to go to school when they do not have food to eat, and when their other brethren go hungry. Hence, children from such deprived families try to work as domestic servants, or in factories that employ them, and remain uneducated and grow up that way becoming perennial victims of this vicious cycle of poverty and suppression.
HIGH COMPETITION FOR JOBS
The industrialists in India have been successful in taking advantage of this disadvantage faced by job seekers. Due to high population, the job seekers are not in a position to bargain a higher wage. As a result, the poor remain poor working for low wages.
ILLETERACY AND LACK OF EDUCATION
Illiteracy is a situation when a person is not able to read and/or write. This is when the person is not in a position to get even primary education. Lack of education is another aspect which is a result of illiteracy and lack of information. An uneducated person is one, who is generally unaware of things which an average person is required to know. Such people are normally unaware of their human rights and the rights of their children too. The children of such people normally become child labourers around their homes.
IRRESPONSIBLE ATTITUDE OF EMPLOYERS
A general sense of irresponsibility towards society is seen among the employers in India, who are least bothered as to how their employees survive. In spite of being aware of the high cost of living and inflation, they are least bothered and least ashamed to pay wages, which are much below sustenance levels. Also, if the employers were responsible, they in the first place would not employ children at all.
The following are some of the situations in which children are engaged in work:
• Agriculture- children working long hours, and under severe hardships on the fields. They are also exposed to the hazards of working with modern machinery and chemicals;
• hazardous industries/ occupations- like glass making, mining, construction, carpet-weaving, zari-making, fireworks, and others, as listed under the Child Labour Act;
• small industrial workshops and service establishments;
• on the streets- rag-pickers, porters, vendors etc;
• Domestic work- largely invisible and silent, and hence face higher degree of exploitation and abuse in the home of employees.
The steps taken for eradication of Child Labour
According to the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, children of any age may be employed, provided employers adhere to restrictions, including a maximum of 6-hour workday with a 1-hour rest period, at least 1 day off per week, and no night or over-time work. The Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act bars children from age 14 to 18, from hazardous occupations and 65 hazardous processes, such as handling pesticides, weaving carpets, breaking stones, working in mines, and domestic service. The Factories Act bars children under age 14 from working in factories. Employing children under age 14 in a hazardous occupation or process can lead to fines and imprisonment. Additionally, the government must either compensate the family of the child, or find employment for an adult member of the family. State governments also have the authority to pass legislation establishing a minimum age for work. In 2012, the State of Rajasthan passed legislation establishing a legal minimum working age of 18 years.
However, gaps remain in legal protections for working children. The lack of a national minimum age for employment increases the likelihood that very young children may engage in activities that jeopardize their health and safety.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act prohibits employers from exploiting juvenile employees under age 18, through practices such as keeping them in bonded conditions or garnishing their wages. Violators may be fined or imprisoned.
The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act outlaws bonded labour in India and provides for district-level vigilance committees to investigate allegations of bonded labour, and release anyone found in bondage. The Act also provides for rehabilitation assistance payments for released bonded labourers. Persons found using bonded labour may be fined and face imprisonment. In April 2013, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act was passed, which amended the Indian Penal Code to protect children and adults from being trafficked into exploitative situations, including forced labour situations. Penalties include fines and up to lifetime imprisonment. In 2012, the government passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offence Act. The law protects children from sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography and establishes special courts for trials of these crimes. The amendment includes penalties for those who employ children or adults who have been trafficked. Penalties include fines and up to lifetime imprisonment. The Information Technology (Amendment) Act of 2008 includes penalties of fines and imprisonment for any person, who publishes, collects, seeks, or downloads child pornography in electronic form. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act No. 61 makes it illegal to cause any person, including children, to produce or deal in narcotic or psychotropic substances; punishment consists of fines and imprisonment.
Education is free and compulsory up to age 14. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) lays out the country’s commitment to provide universal access to primary education with a focus on children from disadvantaged social groups. The RTE provides for free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14. The Act prohibits denying admission to children who lack a birth certificate, allows children to transfer schools, requires local authorities to identify out-of-school children, forbids discrimination against disadvantaged groups, and prescribes quality education standards. In 2012, the RTE was amended to include children with disabilities. Research has shown that disabled children, who face barriers to education, may be at greater risk of working in hazardous occupations.
Government is taking various proactive measures towards convergence of schemes of different Ministries like Ministries of Human Resource Development, Women & Child Development, Urban Housing & Rural Poverty Alleviation, Rural Development, Railway, Panchayati Raj Institutions etc. so that child labour and their families get covered under the benefits of the schemes of these Ministries. Some are listed below:
• Ministry of Women and Child Development; for supplementing the efforts of this Ministry in providing food and shelter to the children withdrawn from work through their schemes of Shelter Homes, etc.
• Ministry of Human Resource Development, for providing Mid-day meal to the NCLP school children, teachers training, supply of books, etc under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and mainstreaming of NCLP children into the formal education system.
• Convergence with Ministries of Rural Development, Urban Housing and Poverty Alleviation, Panchyati Raj, for covering these children under their various income and employment generation scheme for their economic rehabilitation.
• In each State one officer from the State Department of Labour has been nominated as Anti Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) to act as link officer for co-coordinating with Ministry of HRD in that state, for prevention of trafficking of children. CBI is the nodal anti-trafficking agency.
• Convergence with Ministry of Railways for generating awareness and restricting trafficking of children. Further the Ministry is implementing a pilot Project Converging against child labour – support for India’s Model in collaboration with International Labour Organization, SRO Delhi funded by US Department of Labour, with the objective to contribute to the prevention and elimination of hazardous child labour, including trafficking and migration of children for labour. The Project is covering two districts each in Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa for duration of 42 months.
Rescue & Repatriation:
• During inspections and raids, children identified are rescued, and rehabilitative measures are set forth in motion by way of repatriation, in case of migrant child labour, and providing bridge education with ultimate objective of mainstreaming them into the formal system of education. Besides pre-vocational training is also provided to the rescued children.
• With regard to educational rehabilitation, the government is implementing National Child Labour Project Scheme (NCLP) in 266 child labour endemic districts in 20 States. Objectives of the Scheme are:
I. This is the major Central Sector Scheme for the rehabilitation of child labour.
II. The Scheme seeks to adopt a sequential approach with focus on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations & processes in the first instance;
III. Under the Scheme, survey of child labour engaged in hazardous occupations & processes has been conducted;
IV. The identified children are to be withdrawn from these occupations & processes and then put into special schools in order to enable them to be mainstreamed into formal schooling system; and
V. Project Societies at the district level are fully funded for opening up of special schools/Rehabilitation Centres for the rehabilitation of child labour.
• Under the Scheme, children found working in hazardous occupations are withdrawn from work and put into bridge schools, where they are provided with formal/non-formal education, vocational training, health care, mid-day meal, and stipend of Rs.150 per month, with ultimate objective of mainstreaming them into formal educational system.
• At present, 7311 special schools are in operation with enrolment of 3.2 lakh children. Under the Scheme, about 8.52 lakh children have been mainstreamed into formal system since inception.
Institutional Mechanisms for eliminating child labour
The National Authority for Elimination of Child Labour is a high-level governmental body, chaired by the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MOLE). It reviews, monitors, and co-ordinates policies and programs on child labour. The National Steering Committee on Child Labour is a tripartite committee, that guides and monitors child labour policy, with members representing government agencies, employers, and workers. The Secretary of Labour and Employment chairs the Central Monitoring Committee, which is responsible for reviewing the prevalence of child labour and monitoring the actions taken to eliminate child labour. The Core Group on Child Labour, which is composed of eight ministries and chaired by MOLE, co-ordinates the convergence of social protection schemes to reduce child labour.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is charged with monitoring implementation of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. The NHRC monitors state level action against bonded labour, through its review of quarterly reports by state governments on bonded labour, and through exploratory and investigative missions. The NHRC maintains an office to monitor the progress of cases involving bonded labour and child labour that are pending with authorities throughout the country. Despite the rescue and rehabilitation of bonded labourers, prosecutions have not always taken place.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) is charged with co-coordinating anti-trafficking policies and programs for women and children. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Anti-Human Trafficking Cell continues to implement the Government’s nationwide plan to combat human trafficking by co-coordinating with states to establish Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs), and training thousands of officials to combat human trafficking. During the reporting period, 194 AHTUs have been established, and the MHA provided an additional $1.5 million to establish 110 more AHTUs. In January 2012, the Central Bureau of Investigation established an AHTU with a mandate to conduct operations to arrest traffickers of women and children.
The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) investigates cases that may involve a violation of a child’s rights or a lack of proper implementation of laws relating to the protection and development of children, including those related to child labour.
While MOLE provides oversight and co-ordination regarding the country’s labour laws, state governments employ labour inspectors to enforce these laws. Between January and August 2012, the Ministry of Labour reported that 25,040 child labour inspections took place. During this same period, there were 589 prosecutions and 167 convictions. During the reporting period, children were rescued from hazardous work during raids in several areas, including Delhi, Gujarat, and Karnataka. When child labour prosecutions are launched, it may take years before a case is resolved, because the judicial system is back-logged and over-burdened.
Eight state governments adopted State Action Plans for the elimination of child labour. In 2012, the Jharkhand State Action Plan became the latest of these. The Jharkhand plan calls for stronger enforcement mechanisms as well as the rescue and rehabilitation of children. Complaints about hazardous child labour can be made through a toll-free helpline, Child Line, which operates in 193 cities across India. In 2012, Child Line expanded to 68 additional cities. Complaints are then given to the police to investigate and rescue children.
Under India’s federal structure, state and local police are also responsible for enforcing laws pertaining to human trafficking. The Government of India has invested more than $400 million to establish the Crime and Criminal Tracking and Networking System to connect all of India’s 15,000 police stations. This will enable police to better monitor trends in serious crimes, including trafficking. As of 2012, this system was still in the process of being completed. It is not known whether the tracking system will disaggregate its data to include child trafficking victims, and this data is not currently being collected or made public through other mechanisms.
• Elimination of poverty, free and compulsory education, proper and strict implementation of the labour laws, abolishment of child trafficking, among others, can go a long way in solving the problem of child labour.
• After the 86th Amendment of the Constitution in the year 2002, the provision for free and compulsory education between the age group of 6 to 14 years has been included as fundamental right under Article 21A. Children irrespective of their race, caste, sex, economic condition, religion, place of birth, and parents to whom they are born of, need to know how to read and write. They need social and professional skills that only a school and nurturing environment can provide.
• The NGOs also have a big role to play in this regard. Various NGOs are working for the cause of child labour. MVF in Andhra Pradesh is a striking example. They have been working for the welfare of children in various respects.
• Compulsory education can help eradicating the problem of child labour up to a large extent. Statistics also show that education has helped in reducing child labour in western countries up to a large extent.
• Organizing literacy and awareness programme to prevent children from employment.
• Amendment and Modification into Social Security Legislation governing Child Labour.
• Control on Population growth to eliminate Poverty, which is the basic cause of Child Labour.
• Mandatory on industrialists for equal pay without discrimination as to age, status, religion etc.
• Adequate health services for children at large, living in the society.
• Need to provide training and education to the child workers during their free time.