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Current State of Child Labour in India

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As Children’s Day approaches, The CSR Journal takes a look at a less According to an International Labour Organisation report (2017), on any given day in 201, among children aged 5-17 years; 152 million were working as child labour, of which, 73 million were in hazardous work. Owing to a huge number of child labourers, India contributes significantly to this global burden of child labour.

Statistics on child labour

Census 2011 reports 1.01 crore working children (main or marginal) in the age group of 5-14 years which is close to 4%. Out of the total boys in the same age group, 4.15% are working, while the figure among girls is 3.63%. It further states that 2% of the children aged 5-9 years; and 6% of the children aged 10 -14 years; are working. In 2011, among the child workers, 75% belonged to the age group 10-14 years and 25% were from the age group 5-9 years.
Since the last Census in 2011, the percentage of working children has come down from 5%. Further analysis of Census 2011 data suggests that about 22% of the total child labour come from Uttar Pradesh, followed by about 11% from Bihar, i.e. about one-third of the child labour in the country is contributed by these two states.
A study carried out by Save the Children (2018) in districts of Madhya Pradesh reported rampant child-labour where around 58% children reported working as their primary occupation, of which nearly 32% was in the age group of 7-14 years. Those who reported to be attending schools also said they were engaged in similar kinds of income-generating activities as their out-of-school counterparts did.

Unequal treatment of child workers

In the same study, nearly three-fourths of working children reported that they were treated unequally at their workplace and about 8% children shared that they had been victims of abusive language at the workplace. This was reported more among older children (12-17 years) and among boys. It is of concern that the groups that were most responsible for using abusive language comprised parents and adult family members. As much as 63% of working children reported that they were aware of the incidence of sexual abuse and worryingly, 16% said that they would not dare to report such incidents.
In a similar study in the spice industry, Save the Children (2017) concluded that two-thirds of the working children were working on family farms; as it led to significant cost savings, since labour constitutes almost 60% of the total cultivation cost of spices. The other important reason for engaging child labour in the spice industry is a dearth of adult labour, a perception that certain activities are best performed by children and the fact that wages paid to children are much lower than those paid to adults (almost 50% of an adult wage).
The above study also reported that children have very limited control over their employment terms. Less than 8% of working children reported that they themselves decided their terms of employment including payments and working hours. More than 70% of the children reported that they did not receive payments directly, and these were made to their parents instead.

Health concerns

Children who work face graver health issues as compared to children who do not work. Save the Children study (2017) highlighted that children working in spice farms, regularly complain of back pain and ear and eye problems. Children have also been reporting juvenile arthritis and asthma and they are able to relate these diseases with their work and employment.
According, to another Save the Children study (2012) with children working in sugarcane farms, the living conditions of seasonal migrants are harsh. Often, they have to share a small conical-shaped hut made from the leaves of sugarcane and are, thus, exposed to the vagaries of nature. As an immediate consequence, most of them suffer from cold, cough and fever. They also experience physical inconveniences and suffer from diarrhoea due to the non-availability of safe drinking water.
Migration is recognised as a major contributor to child labour as children do not work in their respective districts or states. Moreover, states like West Bengal and Bihar do not have enough work opportunities. Hence, children, particularly from these two states, migrate to states like Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana for work. Some sectors like the carpet industry in Uttar Pradesh, bangle making industry in Jaipur (Rajasthan) and the bidi industry (for rolling) in Telangana are specially known for engaging child labour.

Dangers and consequences of child labour

As one would expect, child labour comes with its own dangers and consequences. Children from West Bengal mentioned that boys are taken by the labour contractors with a verbal assurance of being paid INR 10,000 for three months, sometimes with some advance to the family. But often, they don’t get paid at all and are only given food to eat. Many a time these boys go missing and never come back home. Children in Gaya mentioned that sometimes tourists take these children with them and these children never return.
Children from all states were aware of the consequences of working and mentioned: health hazards, accidents, injuries, low performance in examination, dropping out of school, risk of being abused verbally, physically and sexually — as common consequences of children getting into labour.