Child Labour in India

Child Labour in India

Child Labour in India

Child labour in india is the employment of children at regular and sustained labour. This practice is considered exploitative by many countries and international organizations. Child labour was utilized to varying extents through most of history, but entered public dispute with the beginning of universal schooling , with changes in working conditions during industrialization, and with the emergence of the concepts of workers’ and children’s rights. Child labour is still common in some places where the school leaving age is lower. Child Labour is common in some parts of the world, and can be factory work, mining, prostitution, quarrying, agriculture, helping in the parents’ business, having one’s own small business (for example selling food), or doing odd jobs. Some children work as guides for tourists, sometimes combined with bringing in business for shops and restaurants (where they may also work as waiters). Other children are forced to do tedious and repetitive jobs such as: assembling boxes, polishing shoes, stocking a store’s products, or cleaning. However, rather than in factories and sweatshops, most child labour occurs in the informal sector, “selling many things on the streets, at work in agriculture or hidden away in houses — far from the reach of official labour inspectors and from media scrutiny.” And all the work that they did was done in all types of weather; and was also done for minimal pay.


Child Labour in IndiaMillions of children in today’s world undergo the worst forms of child labour which includes Child Slavery, Child prostitution, Child Trafficking, Child Soldiers. In modern era of material and technological advancement, children in almost every country are being callously exploited. The official figure of child labourers worldwide is 13 million. But the actual number is much higher. Of the estimated 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who are economically active, some 50 million to 60 million between the ages of 5 and 11 are engaged in intolerable forms of labour. Among the 10 to 14year-old children the working rate is 41.3 percent in Kenya, 31.4 percent in Senegal, 30.1 percent in Bangladesh, 25.8 percent in Nigeria, 24 percent in Turkey, 17.7 percent in Pakistan, 16.1 percent in Brazil, 14.4 percent in India, 11.6 percent in China.


Child LabourPoverty is undoubtedly a dominant factor in the use of child labour; families on or below the poverty line force their children into work to supplement their household’s meager income. Eradicating poverty, however, is only the first step on the road to eliminating child labour. There are many other factors that conspire to drive children into employment, none of which is unique to any one country or any one family’s circumstances. Only when we fully understand these reasons can we begin to address the problems associated with child labour :

• Cuts in social spending – particularly education and the health services – have a direct impact on poverty. With little or no access to schooling, children are forced into employment at an early age in order to survive

• Child labour may not even be recognised when children work as part of the family unit. This is particularly common in agriculture, where an entire family may have to work to meet a particular quota or target and cannot afford to employ outside help

• Children may also be expected to act as unpaid domestic servants in their own home, taking care of the family’s needs while both parents work

• Parents may effectively “sell” their children in order to repay debts or secure a loan

• The prevalence of AIDS throughout many developing countries has resulted in an enormous number of orphans who are forced to become their own breadwinners

• Employers often justify the use of children by claiming that a child’s small, nimble hands are vital to the production of certain products such as hand-knotted carpets and delicate glassware -although evidence for this is limited

• The international sex trade places great value on child prostitutes. Girls -and to a lesser extent boys- are kidnapped from their homes (or sold) to networks of child traffickers supplying overseas markets; poverty and sexual and racial discrimination also drive children into the  tourist sex trade Young workers are unaware of their rights and less likely to complain or revolt. In many countries, the legislation is simply not effective enough to support these workers.


Child labour does more than deprive children of their education and mental and physical development – their childhood is stolen. Immature and inexperienced child labourers may be completely unaware of the short and long term risks involved in their work. Working long hours, child labourers are often denied a basic school education, normal social interaction, personal development and emotional support from their family. Beside these problems, children face many physical dangers – and death – from forced labour:

• Physical injuries and mutilations are caused by badly maintained machinery on farms and in factories, machete accidents in plantations, and any number of hazards encountered in industries such as mining, ceramics and fireworks manufacture

• Pesticide poisoning is one of the biggest killers of child labourers. In Sri Lanka, pesticides kill more children than diphtheria, malaria, polio and tetanus combined. The global death toll each year from pesticides is supposed to be approximately 40’000

• Growth deficiency is prevalent among working children, who tend to be shorter and lighter than other children; these deficiencies also impact on their adult life

• Long-term health problems, such as respiratory disease, asbestosis and a variety of cancers, are common in countries where children are forced to work with dangerous chemicals

• HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are rife among the one million children forced into prostitution every year; pregnancy, drug addiction and mental illness are also common among child prostitutes Exhaustion and malnutrition are a result of underdeveloped children performing heavy manual labour, working long hours in unbearable conditions and not earning enough to feed themselves adequately.


The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company operate a rubber plantation in Liberia which is the focus of a global campaign called Stop Firestone. Workers on the plantation are expected to fulfill a high production quota or their wages will be halved, so many workers brought children to work. The International labour Rights Fund filed a lawsuit against Firestone (The International labour Fund vs. The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company) in November 2005 on behalf of current child labourers and their parents who had also been child labourers on the plantation. On June 26, 2007, the judge in this lawsuit in Indianapolis, Indiana denied Firestone’s motion to dismiss the case and allowed the lawsuit to proceed on child labour claims. On 21st November 2005, An Indian NGO activist Junned Khan, with the help of Police, Labour Department and NGO Pratham mounted the country’s biggest ever raid for child labour rescue in the Eastern part of Delhi, the capital of India. The process resulted in rescue of 480 children from over 100 illegal embroidery factories operating in the crowded slum area of Seelampur. For next few weeks, government, media and NGOs were in frenzy over the exuberant numbers of young boys, as young as 5-6 year olds, released from bondage. This rescue operation opened the eyes of the world to the menace of child labour operating right under the nose of the largest democracy in the world. Today everyone knows that Delhi employs thousands of young children illegally in businesses like zari (hand embroidery), leather bag making, lakh (metal studding), artificial and real jeweler.


Child labour is a very complicated development issue, effecting human society all over the world. It is a matter of grave concern that children are not receiving the education and leisure which is important for their growing years, because they are sucked into commercial and labourious activities which is meant for people beyond their years. According to the statistics given by ILO and other official agencies 73 million children between 10 to 14 years of age are employed in economic activities all over the world. The figure translates into 13.2% of all children between 10 to 14 being subjected to child labour. Historically the working force of child workers is more in rural areas compared to urban settings. Nine out of ten village children are employed in agriculture or household industries and craftwork. In towns and cities children are more absorbed in service and trading sectors rather that marketing. This is due to the rapid urbanization of the modern world. Survey done by experimental statisticians of ILO in India, Indonesia and Senegal have revealed that child labour under the age of fourteen takes place in family enterprises mostly, with the exception of Latin America. Child labour is also found to be gender specific, with more boys than girls employed in labourious activities. But this is also because it is difficult to take a count of girls working in households.


From the time of its independence, India has committed itself to be against child labour. Article 24 of the Indian constitution clearly 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” (Constitution of India cited in Jain 1985, 218). Article 39 (e) directs State policy such “that the health and strength of workers . . . 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” (Constitution of India cited in Human Rights Watch 1996, 29). These two articles show that India has always had the goal of taking care of its children and ensuring the safety of workers. The Bonded Labour System Act of 1976 fulfills the Indian Constitution’s directive of ending forced labour. The Act “frees all bonded labourers, cancels any outstanding debts against them, prohibits the creation of new bondage agreements, and orders the economic rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers by the state” (Human Rights Watch 1996, 30).

In regard to child labour, the Indian government implemented the Child Labour Act in 1986. The purpose of this act is to “prohibit the employment of children who have not completed their 14th year in specified hazardous occupations and processes” (Narayan 1988, 146). ILO convention No. 138 suggests that the minimum age for employment should not be less than fifteen years, and thus the Child Labour Act of 1986 does not meet this target (Subrahmanya 1987, 105). A recent advance in government policy occurred in August of 1994, when then- Prime Minister Narasimha Rao announced his proposal of an Elimination of Child Labour Programme. This program pledges to end child labour for two million children in hazardous industries as defined in the Child Labour Act of 1986, by the year 2000. The program revolves around an incentive for children to quit their work and enter non-formal schooling: a one hundred rupee payment as well as one meal a day for attending school (Human Rights Watch 1996, 119-120). Where the funds for this program will come from is unknown. The government needs eight and a half billion dollars for the program over five years, and yet “about 4 percent of the five-year estimated cost was allocated for child labour elimination programs in 1995-1996” (Human Rights Watch 1996, 120). All of the policies that the Indian government has in place are in accordance with the Constitution of India, and all support the eradication of Child Labour. The problem of child labour still remains even though all of these policies are existent. Enforcement is the key aspect that is lacking in the government’s efforts. No enforcement data for child labour laws are available: “A glaring sign of neglect of their duties by officials charged with enforcing child labour laws is the failure to collect, maintain, and disseminate accurate statistics regarding enforcement efforts” (Human Rights Watch 1996, 131). Although the lack of data does not mean enforcement is nonexistent, the number of child labourers and their work participation rates show that enforcement, if existent, is ineffective.


Child labour is a significant problem in India. The prevalence of it is shown by the child work participation rates which are higher in Indian than in other developing countries. The major determinant of child labour is poverty. Even though children are paid less than adults, whatever income they earn is of benefit to poor families. In addition to poverty, the lack of adequate and accessible souces of credit forces poor parents to engage their children in the harsher form of child labour — bonded child labour. Some parents also feel that a formal education is not beneficial, and that children learn work skills through labour at a young age. These views are narrow and do not take the long term developmental benefits of education into account. Another determinant is access to education. In some areas, education is not affordable, or is found to be inadequate. With no other alternatives, children spend their time working. Child labour cannot be eliminated by focusing on one determinant, for example education, or by brute enforcement of child labour laws. The government of India must ensure that the needs of the poor are filled before attacking child labour. If poverty is addressed, the need for child labour will automatically diminish. No matter how hard India tries, child labour always will exist until the need for it is removed. The development of India as a nation is being hampered by child labour. Children are growing up illiterate because they have been working and not attending school. A cycle of poverty is formed and the need for child labour is reborn after every generation. India needs to address the situation by tackling the underlying causes of child labour through governmental policies and the enforcement of these policies. Only then will India succeed in the fight against child labour.

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