Child Labour, consisting of children below 14 years of age, is defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as “the type of work performed by children that deprives them of their childhood and their dignity, which hampers their access to education and acquisition of skills and which is performed under conditions harmful to their health and their development”. Children are the greatest gift to humanity and the same gift is being misused for personal gains as child labour. They constitute 36% of India’s population but a large majority of children in the age group of 5-14 years continue to remain in distress and turmoil. One in every five children below the age of 14 is a labourer. The flower (Child) withers before it blossoms.
Magnitude of the problem
Child labour is more a rural phenomenon than an urban phenomenon. Due to acute poverty poor families residing in rural areas send their children to urban areas for bread and butter. In urban areas, to survive in a cutthroat competition, manufacturers have lowered the real wages for adult workers in order to employ child workers on low wages. The problem is very much vast in its dimension. Children are forced to work in the most hazardous, unhygienic conditions, where they are vulnerable to many severe health problems.
Causes of Child Labour
In a country like India where over 40 percent of the population is living in conditions of extreme poverty, child labour is a complex issue. Following are some of the causes of child labour.
First Extreme poverty is the chief cause of child labour. The children either supplement their parents’ income or are the only wage earners in the family.
Second Child labour is deliberately created by vested interest to get cheap labour.
Third Low level of parental education is also an important factor in determining the incidence of child labour.
Fourth A majority of parents prefer to send their children to work rather than to school at the school-going age, primarily on account of their need for a supplementary income.
Measures to combat Child Labour
Child labour is a universal problem and as a citizen of India we must strive to take stern actions against child labour.
Role of NGOs: NGOs have an important role to play in the elimination of child labour. Government does not have the infrastructure to reach every section of the society and particularly the millions who work and live in remote areas. NGOs can act as a bridge between hard-to-reach areas and the government.
Role of Media: The role of media in elimination of child labour is one of the most important components of the process of total human development. The media should expose defaulting firms or business houses that clandestinely employ children and violate laws relating to child labour.
The government should give certain monetary or if need be non-monetary incentives to the families that live Below Poverty Line (BPL) to avoid child labour so that their children can be sent to school.
Effective state intervention to eliminate inequities, including class and caste barriers to employment and other opportunities in areas such as health and education, will put an end to child labour.
Child labour is an international evil. It requires cumulative efforts to wipe it out. Toiling long hours for a pittance, these little breadwinners accept exploitation as a way of life. The government on this front has also taken a few steps. The International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the International Programme for Elimination of Child Labours in 1991 and India was the first to join the same in 1992. But still the problem persists due to poor implementation of the plans and programmes. The need of the hour is to expand the machinery for enforcing the various laws on child labour. There is a plethora of laws but nothing can eradicate child labour unless there is awareness among parents and children, which will go a long way in saving the future of millions of working children in India. Lastly instead of blaming the "supply side", we must focus on the "demand side".
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