• Child labour typically means the employment of children in any manual work with or without payment. It is a deep rooted social ill in India.
  • Child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.
  • The Census of India 2011 reports 10.1 million working children in the age group of 5-14 years, out of whom 8.1 million are in rural areas mainly engaged as cultivators (26%) and agricultural labourers (32.9%).
  • Even though there was a decline in the number of working children to 3.9% in 2011 from 5% in 2001, the decline rate is grossly insufficient to meet target 8.7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is to end child labour in all forms by 2025.
  • India tops the list when it comes to the number of children still living and working in bonded labour and slave conditions.
  • The side-effects of working at a young age are:
    • Risks of contracting occupational diseases like skin diseases, diseases of the lungs, weak eyesight, TB etc.;
    • Vulnerability to sexual exploitation at the workplace;
    • Deprived of education.
    • They grow up unable to avail development opportunities and end up as unskilled workers for the rest of their lives.
Child Labour Vicious Circle

Factors leading to Child Labour

  • Increase in ‘out of school’ children: UNESCO estimates that around 38.1 million children are “out of school”.
  • Economic crisis: The economic contraction and lockdowns lead to income reductions for enterprises and workers, many of them in the informal economy.
  • Socioeconomic Challenges: caused by the return of migrant workers has compounded the problem.
  • Issues in the Indian Economy: India experienced slower economic growth and rising unemployment even before the pandemic.
  • ‘Digital divide’: Lack of access to the internetDigital devices have forced challenges in distant learning and online learning for children. According to the NSS Report titled ‘Household Social Consumption on Education in India’ only 24% of Indian households had access to an Internet facility.
  • Unorganised Sector Growth: Due to stringent labour laws, industries prefer to hire contractual labour than permanent hiring.
  • Weak Laws:  Laws are not  updated according to the seriousness of the situation.
  • Other reasons: increased economic insecurity, lack of social protection and reduced household income, children from poor households Children are being pushed into child labor.
Types of Child Labour

Impacts of child labour

  • Affect childhood: Child labour takes away a child of his/her childhood. It not only denies his/her right to education but also right to leisure.
  • Affect adult life: Child labour prevents children from gaining the skills and education they require to have opportunities for decent work when they become an adult.
  • Major health and physical risks: as they work long hours and are needed to do tasks for which they are physically and mentally unprepared. Working in hazardous situations adversely impacts a child’s physical and mental health and affects intellectual, emotional and psychological development.
  • Poverty: Child labour is both a cause and consequence of poverty. Household poverty makes children enter the labour market to earn money = they miss out on an opportunity to get an education = further continuing household poverty across generations in a vicious cycle.
  • Affect country as a whole: Existence of a large number of child labourers has long term effect on the economy and it is a serious obstacle to the socio-economic welfare of the country.
impacts of child labour

Child Labour: Constitutional And Legal Provsions

  • The Indian constitution provides free and compulsory education for all children in the age group of six to 14 years as a fundamental right under article 21A. Child labour in India decreased in the decade 2001 to 2011, and this demonstrates that the right combination of policy and programmatic interventions can make a difference.
  • According to Article 23 of the Indian Constitution any type of forced labour is prohibited.
  • Article 24 states that a child under 14 years cannot be employed to perform any hazardous work.
  • Article 39 states that “the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused”.
  • In the same manner, Child Labour Act (Prohibition and Regulation) 1986 prohibits children under the age of 14 years to be working in hazardous industries and processes.
  • Policy interventions such as MGNREGA 2005, the Right to Education Act 2009 and the Mid Day Meal Scheme have paved the way for children to be in schools along with guaranteed wage employment (unskilled) for rural families.
  • Further, with the ratification International Labour Organization Conventions Nos. 138 (Minimum age convention) and 182 (Worst forms of Child Labour Convention) in 2017, the Indian government have demonstrated its commitment to the elimination of child labour including those engaged in hazardous occupations.

Situation of Child Labour in India

  • The number of children working as child labourers came down by 100 million in last two decades (1991 to 2011) which demonstrates that the right combination of policy and programmatic interventions can make a difference; but COVID-19 pandemic has undone a lot of gains
  • The Covid-19 crisis has brought additional poverty to these already vulnerable populations and may reverse years of progress in the fight against child labour- ILO
  • A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF warns that 9 million additional children are at the risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 globally, as a result of the pandemic.
  • In India, the closure of schools and the economic crisis faced by the vulnerable families, triggered by the pandemic, are likely drivers pushing children into poverty and thus, child labour and unsafe migration.
  • There has been a significant increase in the proportion of working children from 28.2% to 79.6% out of the 818 children who were surveyed, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic and closure of schools, reveals a study conducted by Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL).
  • The coronavirus pandemic is forcing India’s children out of school and into farms and factories to work, worsening a child-labour problem that was already one of the direst in the world.
  • Orphaned children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and other exploitation like forced begging, or child labour. In such families, there is also the likelihood of older children dropping out of school to support their younger siblings.
  • Children are seen as a stop-gap measure to fill jobs left vacant by migrant labourers who fled cities for their rural homes during the lockdown.
  • According to the CACL survey, more than 94% of children have said that the economic crisis at home and family pressure had pushed them into work. Most of their parents had lost their jobs or earned very low wages during the pandemic.
  • A total of 591 children were rescued from forced work and bonded labour from different parts of India during the lockdown by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, a civil society group on children’s rights

As per the Census of 2011, there are five major states in India that constitute 55% of the total number of child labour in the country.

States PercentageNumbers (In million)
Uttar Pradesh 21.52.18
Bihar 10.71.09
Rajasthan 8.40.85
Maharashtra 7.20.73
Madhya Pradesh 6.90.70

Impact of the Pandemic

  • The coronavirus pandemic is forcing India’s children out of school and into farms and factories to work, worsening a child-labour problem that was already one of the direst in the world.
  • The Covid-19 crisis has brought additional poverty to these already vulnerable populations and may reverse years of progress in the fight against child labour- ILO
  • The nationwide lockdown imposed, pushed millions of people into poverty, which is encouraging trafficking of children from villages into cities for cheap labour.
  • School closures have aggravated the situation and many millions of children are working to contribute to the family income. The pandemic has also made women, men and children more vulnerable to exploitation.
  • According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) some 25 million people could lose their jobswith those in informal employment suffering most from lack of social protection during this pandemic.
  • As per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) weekly tracker survey, the impact of COVID-19 has already pushed the urban unemployment rate to 30.9%
  • Orphaned children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and other exploitation like forced begging, or child labour. In such families, there is also the likelihood of older children dropping out of school to support their younger siblings.
  • Children are seen as a stop-gap measure to fill jobs left vacant by migrant laborers who fled cities for their rural homes during the lockdown.
  • A total of 591 children were rescued from forced work and bonded labour from different parts of India during the lockdown by Bachpan Bachao Andolan, a civil society group on children’s rights

Challenges before policy makers with respect to child labour

  • Definitional issue: One of the biggest challenges in eradicating child labour is the confusion around the definition of a child, in terms of age, in various laws dealing with child labour.
  • Lack of identification: Age identification of children is a difficult task in India due to the lack of identification documents. Child labourers often lack school registration certificates and birth certificates, creating an easy loophole in the law to exploit. Most often the children of migrant workers working as labourers and those employed in domestic work go unreported.
  • Weak enforcement of law and poor governance: Weak enforcement of the law, lack of adequate deterrence and corruption is a major hurdle in eradicating child labour.
  • The pandemic is hampering enforcement of anti-child labour laws, with fewer workplace inspections and less vigorous pursuit of human traffickers.
  • NGOs point to the fact that the real spike in child labour is yet to come. When economic activity begins accelerating, there is a risk of returning migrants taking children along with them to the cities.
  • Children’s access to education, basic nutrition and other critical requirements for their development and wellbeing, have suffered a huge setback and many new children have fallen into the trap of forced labour along with further deteriorated conditions for the existing child labourers.
  • Incoherency between laws that prescribe a minimum age for employment and those for completion of compulsory school education. It also means that the expansion of quality universal basic education has to extend beyond the fulfilment of statutory provisions.
  • Multiple forms exist: Child labour is not uniform. It takes many forms depending upon the type of work that children are made to do, the age and sex of the child and whether they work independently or with families.
  • Due to this complex nature of child labour, there is no one strategy that can be used to eliminate it.
  • The absence of national legislation to give effect to global conventions on the employment of children in hazardous industries, as well as on the minimum age of work.
  • The lack of harmony between global commitments and domestic priorities.
  • Lack of effective labour inspections in the informal economy. Around 71% of working children are concentrated in the agriculture sector, with 69% of them undertaking unpaid work in family units.

Government measures undertaken to eradicate Child labour in India

  • Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act(1986) to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employments and to regulate the conditions of work of children in certain other employments
  • Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016 : The Amendment Act completely prohibits the employment of children below 14 years.
  • The amendment also prohibits the employment of adolescents in the age group of 14 to 18 years in hazardous occupations and processes and regulates their working conditions where they are not prohibited.
  • On World Day Against Child Labour (June 12) in 2017, India ratified two core conventions of the International Labour Organization on child labour.
  • National Policy on Child Labour (1987), with a focus more on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations and processes, rather than on prevention.
  • Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act2000 and amendment of the JJ Act in 2006: includes the working child in the category of children in need of care and protection, without any limitation of age or type of occupation.
  • Section 23 (cruelty to Juvenile) and Section 26 (exploitation of juvenile employee) specifically deal with child labour under children in need of care and protection.
  • Pencil: The government has launched a dedicated platform viz. pencil.gov.in to ensure effective enforcement of child labour laws and end child labour.
  • The Right to Education Act 2009 has made it mandatory for the state to ensure that all children aged six to 14 years are in school and receive free education. Along with Article 21A of the Constitution of India recognizing education as a fundamental right, this constitutes a timely opportunity to use education to combat child labour in India.
  • Amendments made to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act prescribes severe punishment for people found guilty of retaining bonded labour.
  • The amendment stipulates rigorous imprisonment for those who force children to beg, handle or carry human waste and animal carcasses.
  • The draft National Policy for Domestic Workers, when goes into force, will ensure minimum Rs.9,000 salary for household helpers.
  • Every police station in the country has a separate cell for juvenile, women and child protection.
  • Many NGOs like Bachpan Bachao Andolan, CARE India, Child Rights and You, Global march against child labour, RIDE India, Child line etc. have been working to eradicate child labour in India.

Way Forward

  • Abolition of child trafficking, elimination of poverty, free and compulsory education, and basic standards of living can reduce the problem to a great extent.
  • Strict implementation of labour laws is also essential in order to prevent exploitation by parties or multinational companies
  • Strengthening policy and legislative enforcement, and building the capacities of government, workers’ and employers’ organisations as well as other partners at national, State and community levels should be prioritized.

Education:

  • Spreading literacy and education is a potent weapon against the practice of child labour, because illiterate persons do not understand the implications of child labour
  • The single most effective way to stem the flow of school-aged children into child labour is to improve access to and quality of schooling.

Eradicate Unemployment:

  • Another way to stop child labour is to eliminate or rein in unemployment. Because of inadequate employment, many families cannot afford to meet all their expenses. If employment opportunities are increased, they will be able to let their children read and write and become worthy citizens
  • Continued progress against child labour requires policies that help mitigate the economic vulnerability of households. Accelerating progress towards universal social protection is key, as social protection helps prevent poor households from having to rely on child labour as a coping mechanism.

Role of Panchayat: As nearly 80% of child labour in India emanates from rural areas, the Panchayat can play a dominant role in mitigating child labour. In this context, panchayat should:

  • Generate awareness about the ill-effects of child labour,
  • Encourage parents to send their children to school,
  • Create an environment where children stop working and get enrolled in schools instead,
  • Ensure that children have sufficient facilities available in schools,
  • Inform industry owners about the laws prohibiting child labour and the penalties for violating these laws,
  • Activate Balwadis and Aanganwadis in the village so that working mothers do not leave the responsibility of younger children on their older siblings.
  • Motivate Village Education Committees (VECs) to improve the conditions of schools.

Attitude change:

  • It is important that the attitudes and mindsets of people are changed to instead employ adults and allow all children to go to school and have the chance to learn, play and socialize as they should.
  • A sector-wide culture of child labour-free businesses has to be nurtured.
  • Coordinated policy efforts should be taken to provide employment and income support to all informal sector workers to stimulate the economy and labour demand.
  • States should prioritise efforts to continue education for all children, using all available technology.
  • Financial support or relaxation of school fees and other related school expenses should be given to those children who wouldn’t be able to return to school otherwise.
  • School authorities need to ensure that every student will have free lunches at home until schools open. Special efforts should be taken to identify children orphaned due to COVID-19, and arrangements of shelter and foster care for them should be made on a priority basis.

Integrated Approach: 

  • Child labour and other forms of exploitation are preventable through integrated approaches that strengthen child protection systems as well as simultaneously addressing poverty and inequity, improve access to and quality of education and mobilize public support for respecting children’s rights.

Treating Children as Active Stakeholder: 

  • Children have the power to play a significant role in preventing and responding to child labour.

Eliminating child labour is firmly placed within Goal 8 of the SDGs. A stronger nexus between the discourse on SDGs and the discourse on eliminating child labour can take the advantage of complementarities and synergies of a wide range of actors engaged in both areas of work. The fight against child labour is not just the responsibility of one, it is the responsibility of all.


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