The International Labor Organization defines child labor as any work that deprives children of their childhood, hampers their potential and dignity, and is detrimental to their physical and emotional development. A crucial component of child labor is that it interferes with children’s schooling, prevents them from leaving school, obliges them to leave prematurely, or requires them to combine school attendance with incredibly long hours of work. Likewise, UNICEF suggests that is a child between the ages of 5 and 11 is encumbered with ‘child labor’ if they engage in at least one hour of economic activity or at least 28 hours of domestic chores in a week. Simultaneously, for children between the age of 12 to 14, child labor entails a minimum of 14 hours of economic activity and 42 hours of household work per week. Lastly, the Census of India, 2001, deems child labor as the participation of a child under 17 years of age in any economically productive activity with or sans compensation or profit. The definition includes mental and physical toil and considers part-time work, family enterprises, and unpaid work on farms as part of child labor. Child labor is a global problem as more than 200 million children are bound by the clutches of child labor. Thus, it becomes imperative to end child labor by making concerted efforts.
Child Labor in India
The issue of child labor has plagued India for a very long time. We can find the mention of the employment of children in the context of slavery in Kautilya’s Arthashastra of 3rd century BC. Consequently, in the medieval period, children became trainees under artisans. In the agrarian society of India, children’s labor was an integral part of the semi-feudal relations, and mechanisms like the Zamindari system strengthened the phenomenon. There is a massive proliferation of child labor in contemporary times despite stringent laws. UNICEF estimates suggest that India has the most significant number of laborers in the world who are under 14 years of age. The 2011 Census of India data reveals the worrying prevalence of child labor in India as 10.1 million children between the ages 5 to 14 are imbibed in child labor.
Moreover, out of the entire ‘child laborer’ cohort in the country, one percent are involved in hazardous activities such as mining, the fireworks industry, etc. The brunt of child labor is too excruciating for India to bear. It jeopardizes future prosperity and development and ignites a vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and more child labor. Thus, the hour’s need is to end child labor by formal interventions by the government, efforts of non-governmental organizations, and ushering in an institutional change from the grass-root level.
Causes of Child Labor in India
- Lack of educational facilities for children
- Scarcity of primary schools in villages
- Absence of primary school teachers in remote areas of the country
- Continuance of agrarian relations
- Gender bias against girl children
- Abysmally low primary school enrolment in rural areas of India
- Presence of a large, unregulated unorganized sector that stands outside the purview of crucial labor laws
- Compromise in the enforcement of laws against child labor
- Lack of awareness regarding the detriments of child labor among vulnerable communities
Consequences of Child Labor in India
- Deterioration of Children’s Wellbeing - Child labor hampers the emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing of children, as they are not wired to work long hours.
- Disruption in Future Labor Force – Children who fall into the trap of children remain illiterate or negligibly illiterate. Hence, when they become adults, their ability to contribute to the economy is disrupted.
- Trade-off With Human Capital – For a populated country like India, human resources are crucial. However, child labor dismantles the prospect of depending on human resources, and there is a trade-off for a short gain.
- Stagnation of the Economy – Child labor implies that children do not receive the necessary skills like linguistic aptitude, technical skills, and critical thinking. Hence, their productivity as a future workforce declines, and they have to stick to low-paid jobs. The country’s economic growth stagnates, raising more poverty and thereby more child laborers. Thus, it becomes crucial to end child labor in the country.
How Can an Organization Working to End Child Labor Help?
Non-governmental organizations such as Satyarthi.org help tackle child labor from the grass-root level. They spread awareness about the evils of child labor among vulnerable communities. A pertinent problem that facilitates child labor is the lack of understanding among parents about trafficking. Thus, making communities conscious about the workings of child labor is essential to end child labor from its core. Non-governmental organizations also ensure effective implementation of laws against child labor by holding rallies, lobbying for better policies, and getting involved in fact-finding committees. Lastly, organizations like Satyarthi.org make India ‘children-friendly’ by disseminating education, constructing schools, and tackling the issue of child labor.
Published by neha naayar