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Children shouldn’t work in fields but on dreams

Why the Child Labour Policy in India Fails?

The story of India’s 33 Million Working Children continues to be a reality that is not famously part of political agendas or in the ‘to be fixed list’ of our policy makers.

As India’s economy continues to be backboned by the informal sector, the regulation of labours, particularly the Child Labours is a challenge. Nearly 80% of the Child Labours are in rural India and mostly working in agriculture sector, cotton industry, match-box & lock making, mining and stone quarrying, tea gardens and pharmaceutical industry. However, in the Urban setup, child labours are more engaged in service oriented work which is in fact a common sight in Indian Cities. Children engaged in labour brings a lot of good news for employers as they are cheap in wages, able to do delicate work or even hard work with not much of complaints or demands.

India refers to children of age 5 – 14 as child workers. In addition, those who are 14-17 are considered as adolescents. The working adolescents represent a significant number in the child labour workforce which counts to 62.8% of the total child labours. Most of the working adolescents do not study and are school drop outs or never have been to a school. Since the RTE 2009 has an age bench mark as 14 years for compulsory schooling, there is a tendency for children after class 8 to work than to continue studies in higher classes. Thus, they are often engaged in bounded labour or household industries and forced into hazardous work. Among the working adolescents, International Labour Organization (ILO) points out that in 2015 it accounts to 38.7 Million boys vs. 8.8 million girls, resulting that more boys are engaged in work at this age category. However, it does not mean that girls are not engaged in work but the early marriages, extensive household work and agriculture work fades them out of this category.

Additionally, recent findings conducted by the labour department of India reveals that 80-90% of the child workers are from the schedule Cast/Schedule Tribe. Does it mean that there are no poor in upper casts? Or does it reflect that majority of the child workers are being employed from the SC/ST communities?

In the global context, India contributes to 6% of the child labours. ILO and UNICEF recommend the need for exercising a multi-pronged strategy to tackle employment which involves better law enforcement, increasing awareness and strengthening education systems which is what India is called to focus on as well.

The Indian Government facilitates the National Child Labour Project with the aim to rehabilitate child workers. It has been ‘recorded’ that 50,000 children were rescued and rehabilitated in 2017-2018 which obviously counts to a small share of the over all child labour force.

The data on child workers are not reflecting the ground reality as the employees keeps the children involvement covered and, in the law, the definition of the work they are not supposed to do or the situations in which children can be involved in work is not clear or can often contradicting to the reality. Thus, most of the civil society organizations estimates that there are at least 60 million child workers in the country which doesn’t reflect in record books.

In the context of developing countries and under developed countries, the idea of Abolition Child Labour is not in the agenda for many reasons. Most of these working children supports their families and their real income have become a survival strategy. Therefore, abolishing child labour shuts the opportunities for basic income for these families. the state in developing societies cannot ban child labour and has to depend on economic development to ensure the attrition (not abolition) of the phenomenon of child labour and the gradual accompanying universalisation of primary education.

What does the Policy Say?

India’s Child Labour Prohibition & Regulation Act 1986 was amended in 2016 with the hope to progress in eradication of Child Labour in the country and sending more children to school than to work.

The Act prohibits the engagement of children in all occupations and of adolescents hazardous occupations and processes. Here, Children refer to as those under 14 and adolescents as under 18 years.

The Act imposes fines for those who employs or permit children to work up to 50,000 and a jail term of two years.

Why Policy Fails?

The act states that children under 14 years are permitted to work in family business after school and during the holidays. The definition of family business is unclear and leaves more space for unscrupulous employers to interpret the term ‘family businesses’ for their benefit. The meaning of family varies in different social & cultural contexts. Thus, family can be the extended or whoever claims to be family can employ the children as workers, making it challenging to monitor child labour in these working environments.

There is no guarantee that these working children in family industries are ensured proper schooling and continues education. Mostly in the rural villages where poverty flourish, education has become secondary and family look for more work-income to survive. As a result, more children are driven to work to support the family. Since the law makes it possible for these children to work after school hours and during holidays, it makes it easier for family to justify allowing children to work. In fact, this results in drop out of school common. If a student work after school and during holidays, they are physical and mental conditions are affected as they lack enough rest, recreation and safety. Therefore, the policy fails the child labours under 14 years.

The amendments to the 1986 Act have slashed the list of hazardous occupations for children. The list of 83 occupation prohibited for children doesn’t include some of the most common industries that employs children, such as battery recycling units, chemical mixing units, brick kilns cotton farms among many. In the other hand, more devastating fact is that, the Section 4 of the Act allows the occupations mentioned as hazardous to be removed by government authorities at their own discretion. Therefore, the possibilities of Politicians, Multi National Companies and other Industries to misuse the Child Labour Act in India is possible and can be easily justified that working children are legal.

Why can’t the Child Labour Act in India be re-worked to make current 33 million children focus on their childhood with quality education and human development that they much need? It is vital that the Act should be reviewed in a Child Worker Centred manner rather than making sure all other stakeholders are satisfied. It is important that the Story of the Child workers in India to be changed and that let these children work on their dreams.

By Meenuka Mathew


International Labour Organization Data 2018


Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 1986 and Its Amendment 2018

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