Mahatma Gandhi has said, “If we wish to create a lasting peace we must begin with the children.” Children are the future of the world. They are the ones that would fulfil our dreams and build a world of our aspirations. Despite this, they are often treated in the worst possible manner in the present.
According to 2018 report by International Labour Organization (ILO), about 152 million children – 64 million girls and 88 million boys — are in child labour globally, accounting for almost one in 10 of all children worldwide. 72 million of these children are engaged in hazardous work. The current situation of COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic and labour market shock is having a huge impact on many vulnerable children who are pushed into child labour because of the crisis.
In order to bring attention to the problem of child labour and to find ways to eradicate it or fight against it, June 12 is marked as World Day Against Child Labour. The day was launched by ILO in 2002 to bring together people from all walks of life to raise awareness about the problem of child labour and to define guidelines to help them.
What is Child Labour?
Children around the world are routinely engaged in paid and unpaid forms of work that are not harmful to them. For example, children working as artists in the entertainment industry, or children working in family establishments under supervision of guardians do not qualify under child labourers. They are classified as child labourers when they are either too young to work, or are involved in hazardous activities that may compromise their physical, mental, social or educational development.
World Day Against Child Labour 2020 – Theme
The theme of World Day Against Child Labour 2020 is ‘COVID-19: Protect children from Child Labour, now more than ever’. It aims to focus on the impact of COVID-19 crisis on children.
COVID-19 outbreak has put the world into a lockdown. The educational institutions are shut down leaving a lot of free time at the hands of children. This puts them at great risk of falling into unwanted and undesirable employment. The pandemic has also cost many people their jobs – especially to those from poor families working in unorganised sectors or as daily wage labourers. This has pushed many families further into poverty and starvation, pushing the children of such families at risk of exploitation.
According to UNESCO, the COVID-19 outbreak has already had drastic consequences for children. Their access to education, food, and health services has been dramatically affected across the globe.
According to Child Helpline International, a third of the global population is on COVID-19 lockdown, and school closures have impacted more than 1.5 billion children. Movement restrictions, loss of income, isolation, overcrowding, and high levels of stress and anxiety are increasing the likelihood that children experience and observe physical, psychological, and sexual abuse at home – particularly those children already living in violent or dysfunctional family situations.
Child Labour in India
In 2019, India ranked 113 out of 176 countries on an index that evaluates countries on the well being of children. According to the National Census 2011, the total child population in India in the age group of 5-14 years is about 260 million. Of these, about 10 million (about 4%) of the total child population are child labourers working either as the main or marginal workers.
The 2011 census showed a decline in the incidence of child labour in India by 2.6 million or around 20% between 2001 and 2011. The decline was more visible in rural areas. However, the number of child workers increased in urban areas during this period. In the year 2001, there were around 11 million child workers in rural areas which came down to about 8 million in the year 2011. In urban areas, the number of child workers went up from 1.3 million in 2001 to 2 million in 2011. The change suggests that child labour is now invisible as the location of work has changed from the factories to the homes of urban dwellers.
In India, children are working at starvation wages in textile factories helping with the processing of carpets and doing backbreaking work in brick-making factories. They are also employed in making and selling tobacco products and are also used for cheap labour in industries such as steel extraction.
International Laws on Child Labour
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, children are not just objects who belong to their parents and for whom decisions are made, or adults in training. Rather, they are human beings and individuals with their own rights. The Convention considers that childhood is separate from adulthood, and lasts until 18; it is a special, protected time, in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity. The Convention became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and has helped transform children’s lives.
Child Labour Laws in India
Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016
According to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, employment of children below the age of 14 years in any commercial enterprise is illegal. This does not include children working in the unorganized sectors including agriculture as well as the household work. The act also bars the employment of adolescents in occupations that deal with hazardous working conditions such as chemical plants and mines.
According to the act, children can only work after school hours or during holidays and that children are allowed to work in family-owned secure sectors. However, no child is permitted to work between 7 pm and 8 am. Children are also not allowed to work overtime. Additionally, an establishment must provide a holiday of one whole day each week to every child employed.
National Policy on Child Labour, 1987
National Policy on Child labour mainly focuses on the rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations and processes, rather than on prevention. For effective implementation of the policy, an electronic platform was launched by the Ministry of Labour & Employment. Platform for Effective Enforcement for No Child Labour (PENCIL) Portal aims at involving Centre, State, District, Governments, civil society and the general public in achieving the target of child labour free society.
Under National Child Labour Project (NCLP) Scheme, children in the age group of 9-14 years, rescued/withdrawn from work are enrolled in the NCLP Special Training Centres, where they are provided with bridge education, vocational training, mid-day meal, stipend, health care, etc. before being mainstreamed into the formal education system.
The Right to Education Act, 2009
The Right to Education Act, 2009 has made it mandatory for the state to ensure that all children aged 6 to 14 years are in school and receive free education. Additionally, the Constitution of India has been amended and Article 21A is added that recognizes education as a fundamental right. The act constitutes a timely opportunity to use education to combat child labour in India.
Child labour has become a social norm in the country that is largely accepted and tolerated by society. This exploitative and abusive practice will continue unless society adopts a zero-tolerance attitude towards it. The practice is evil and has to be eradicated. This can only be achieved with a combined effort in the form of activism, policy-making, and responsible behaviour on the part of citizens.