(Sample Material) SSC CGL (Tier -3) Study Kit "Essay - "Child Labour-free India: Myth or Reality"

Sample Materials of SSC CGL (Tier -3) Study Kit

Subject: Essay

Topic: Child Labour-free India: Myth or Reality

Children have always been taken for granted although reams of documents have been churned out by international and national agencies trying to better the child’s tomorrow. Despite all the words written, prom­ises made and conventions signed, too little has changed. A good proportion of children throughout the world, especially in India, form a part of the toiling masses­destitute, deprived and disadvantaged. Millions of them work in fields and factories, on street corners and in garbage dumpy: in private houses and in ‘public’ houses. Most do some work from their earliest years, helping around the home or running errands. With a low level of education and rundown sense of social responsibility, such children can do much harm to society if they are not given equal protection and opportunities to develop to the best of their potential. The existence of child labour in India is a complex reality, a social crime, a crime against humanity. It is a symptom, however; not the disease. It is but natural that one may be tempted to ask why the problem still exists.

Poverty is the principal and parent cause for the prevalence and persistence of child labour. Large number of dependent children, parental illiteracy, unstable and poor income, and few income-generating assets are the more likely reasons for children ending up working rather than studying. Some studies reveal higher incidence of child labour in poor single-parent families. However, many chil­dren work not entirely because of poverty but because of pressure from parents who themselves sit idle or demand extra income to satisfy their various addictions. Ineffective laws and, more often, lack of political will to implement them also contribute to the problem. The inspection ma­chinery is not efficient and in many cases the parents are reluctant to support the relevant programmes of the gov­ernment because of their socio-economic compulsions. Child labour is preferred by many employers mainly because it is cheap, and comes without much of a liability. Sometimes, the parents also offer their children to work for an employer in lieu of a loan or debt.

The constitutional vision of ‘universal’ and ‘compulsory’ education for all children up to the age of 14 is till today an illusory mirage. Parents consider it prudent to send their non-school-going children to work and earn. The principle of ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ being largely followed by school teachers, repulsive methods of teaching and many social discriminations at village schools-if indeed, school facilities exist at all-result in a great number of drop-outs; these are naturally pushed into the labour market, rural or urban. Lastly, the increasing industrialisation and urbanisation and soaring materialistic aspirations have also a say in this respect.

The phenomenon of child labour is not, however, new or recent. Even a long time back, children were being sold and purchased as slaves of the rich. Poor children were also employed in well-to-do houses. Generally, parents would involve their children in their own professions. In the Gurukul system of education, the students were asked to perform various tasks for their teachers like begging for food. Collecting fuel and milking cows, though it was all a vital part of their learning. Exploitation of children at work or making them work at the expense of education has always attracted the flak of sensible people. According to Manusmriti and Arthashastra the king was to make education of every child compulsory. Despite that, children would do some work either at home or in thefield along with their parents. Kautilya prohibited the sale and purchase of children.

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Child labour in its present form made its appearance around the mid-19th century when modern industries were introduced in India by the British. Disintegration of indig­enous self-sufficient village economies, and subsequent scarcity of food and soaring prices compelled the villagers to migrate to the new industrial centres for livelihood. The employers found children more sincere and easier to bully into harder work than their elders; they could also be paid less. The magnitude of child labour gradually began to grow, especially in deep mines, factories and plantations. Simul­taneously, their conditions of work became more inhuman, more pathetic. Many philanthropists began to denounce the modus operandi of employers and the exploitation and abuse of children. This resulted in the First Factory Act (1881) which laid down that children between the ages of 7 and 12, years could not be made to work for more than nine hours a day. (Today the hours seem astoundingly hard!) Since then, several constitutional and administrative measures have been taken at international and national levels to ameliorate the conditions of child labour and to ultimately eradicate it. Both the Indian Constitution and the International Labour Organisation believe that a human child should be given opportunities to enjoy the pleasures of learning and play at least till he or she completes 14 Years of age. But these remain utopian wishes.

Millions of children in today’s world undergo the worst forms of child labor which includes Child Slavery, Child prostitution, Child Trafficking, Child Soldiers. In modern era of material and technological advancement, children in almost every country are being callously exploited. The official figure of child laborers worldwide is 13 million. But the actual number is much higher. Of the estimated 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 who are economically active, some 50 million to 60 million between the ages of 5 and 11 are engaged in intolerable forms of labor. Among the 10 to 14year-old children the working rate is 41.3 percent in Kenya, 31.4 percent in Senegal, 30.1 percent in Bangladesh, 25.8 percent in Nigeria, 24 percent in Turkey, 17.7 percent in Pakistan, 16.1 percent in Brazil, 14.4 percent in India, 11.6 percent in China.

ILO estimated that 250 million children between 5 and 14 work for a living, and over 50 million children under age twelve work in hazardous circumstances. United Nations estimate that there were 20 million bonded child laborers worldwide. Based on reliable estimates, at least 700,000 persons to 2 million, especially girls and children, are trafficked each year across international borders. Research suggests that the age of the children involved is decreasing. Most are poor children between the ages of 13 and 18, although there is evidence that very young children even babies, are also caught up in this horrific trade. They come from all parts of the world. Some one million children enter the sex trade, exploited by people or circumstances. At any one time, more than 300,000 children under 18 - girls and boys - are fighting as soldiers with government armed forces and armed opposition groups in more than 30 countries worldwide. ILO estimates that domestic work is the largest employment category of girls under age 16 in the world.

Children are employed in agriculture, fishing, hunting, plantation, manufacturing, maintenance, construction and transport industries, trade and other services. The main pockets of child labour concentration in India are bidi manufacturing centres, restaurants and dhabos, lock-mak. ing, carpet industry, match and fireworks factories, precious stones polishing centres, glass and brassware industries, bangles and hosiery manufacturing centres, and in almost all the tribal areas. Very often one comes across the pathetic sight of children rummaging garbage dumps for rags, paper and plastic pieces. Small children are engaged in various activities like petty vending, shoe-shining and selling news­papers at dangerous road crossings. The abodes of most of them are either the streets and pavements, railway plat­forms, or squalid and unhygienic slums.

India has more child workers than any other country and the incidence is on the increase. According to the Asian Labour Monitor, every third household in India has a working child, every fourth child in the age-group of 5-15 is employed and over twenty per cent of the country’s GNP is the contribution of child labour. According to one estimate, there are more than one crore working children in the age-group of 10-14 as compared to the total child population of 25 crore. Such children are denied oppor­tunities for growth, development, learning, health care, recreation and deprived of much-needed love. They are forced instead to step into the world of adult work with child wages. They are the only kind of workers who have no representatives of their own in legislatures, who have no union, hence no unrest, no demands for better facilities or wage-hike. As a result, they are the most low-paid and uncared-for workers in the labour market, Hard long hours of labour thwarts the children’s world of imagination, and kills their creativity by thrusting them into a mechanised way of life. It chokes their mental and physical growth. The result is disastrous. Soon, they start suffering from asthma, tuberculosis, rupture of ear-drums, skin diseases: they may even lose a limb or taro while working. Some child workers start taking country liquor and drugs to ward off exhaustion. Their disturhed childhood also drives some to crime. Many of them fall victim to sexual abuse, and many are thrust into prostitution. The whole system, the inequitable socio-economic-political ambience, is responsible for the plight of children. They are being punished not for any fault of theirs but for that of their elders.

The legislative framework and policy perspectives on child lahour have, more or less, failed to mitigate the miseries of children. The programmes formulated for their betterment remain on paper for want of adequate funds and political will. Very little effort has been made to tackle the problem effectively. Neither parents nor employers have been penalised for exploiting children. Very few alternatives for vocationalising have been provided. Child labour is, however, embedded in the social milieu and economic compulsions of India. The problem is far more complex than the do-good foreigners, the do-better Indian activists and the do-nothing government realise. It can be solved neither by punishment nor by inducements alone. In a country fragmented by diversity of religious, cultural, social and ethnic backgrounds, it is imperative that the programmes cater to the felt needs of the people. This means that the process of change will be slow, and India will have to live with the problem for some time to come. In the interim, mitigation is all one can hope for, but here the efforts must be sincere and steady.

The West may salve its conscience by banning carpet imports from India because of the tender hands that have suffered in making them. But a practical thought must be spared for the plight of the children if suddenly deprived of their livelihood. Crime, prostitution and destitution can hardly be a better fate than child labour.

Child labor is a source of income for poor families. They provide help in household enterprises or of household chores in order to free adult household members for economic activity elsewhere. In some cases, the study found that a child’s income accounted for between 34 and 37 percent of the total household income. In India the emergence of child labor is also because of unsustainable systems of landholding in agricultural areas and caste system in the rural areas. Bonded labour refers to the phenomenon of children working in conditions of servitude in order to pay their debts. The debt that binds them to their employer is incurred not by the children themselves but by their parent. The creditors cum employers offer these loans to destitute parents in an effort to secure the labor of these children. The arrangements between the parents and contracting agents are usually informal and unwritten. The number of years required to pay off such a loan is indeterminate. The lower castes such as dalits and tribal make them vulnerable groups for exploitation.

The environmental degradation and lack of employment avenues in the rural areas also cause people to migrate to big cities. On arrival in overcrowded cities the disintegration of family units takes place through alcoholism, unemployment or disillusionment of better life etc. This in turn leads to emergence of street children and child workers who are forced by their circumstances to work from the early age. The girls are forced to work as sex -workers or beggars. A large number of girls end up working as domestic workers on low wages and unhealthy living conditions.

Sometimes children are abandoned by their parents or sold to factory owners. The last two decades have seen tremendous growth of export based industries and mass production factories utilizing low technologies. They try to maintain competitive positions through low wages and low labor standards. The child laborers exactly suit their requirements. They use all means to lure the parents into giving their children on pretext of providing education and good life. In India majority of children work in industries, such as cracker making, diamond polishing, glass, brass-ware, carpet weaving, bangle making, lock making and mica cutting to name a few. 15% of the 100,000 children work in the carpet industry of Uttar Pradesh. 70-80% of the 8,000 to 50,000 children work in the glass industry in Ferozabad. In the unorganized sector child labor is paid by piece-by-piece rates that result in even longer hours for very low pay.

Inadequate schools, a lack of schools, or even the expense of schooling leaves some children with little else to do but work. The attitudes of parents also contribute to child labor; some parents feel that children should work in order to develop skills useful in the job market, instead of taking advantage of a formal education. From the time of its independence, India has committed itself to be against child labor. Article 24 of the Indian constitution clearly states that “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment” The Bonded Labour System Act of 1976 fulfills the Indian Constitution’s directive of ending forced labour A Plethora of additional protective legislation has been put in place. There are distinct laws governing child labour in factories in commercial establishments, on plantations and in apprenticeships. There are laws governing the use of migrant labour and contract labour. A recent law The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation law) of 1986 designates a child as a person who has not completed their 14th year of age. It purports to regulate the hours and the conditions of child workers and to prohibit child workers in certain enumerated hazardous industries. However there is neither blanket prohibition on the use of child labour, nor any universal minimum age set for child workers. All of the policies that the Indian government has in place are in accordance with the Constitution of India, and all support the eradication of Child Labor. The problem of child labor still remains even though all of these policies are existent. Enforcement is the key aspect that is lacking in the government’s efforts.

Faced with such an alarming problem, we have to act swiftly. Though the abolition of child labour is the ultimate objective of any sane society, one cannot ignore the ground realities. At present, the thrust of effort is on amelioration of the conditions of child labour. The Indian government’s policy is to prohibit the employment of children in haz­ardous jobs and regulate their conditions of work in other occupations. The Constitution has made the protection of children below 14 years a guaranteed and enforceable fundamental right under Article 14-”no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or engaged in any other hazardous employment”. According to Article 39 (e), the tender age of children should not be abused and citizens should not be forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuited to their age and strength. Article 39 (f) states that children should he given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity so that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation.

And now the right to free and compulsory education till the age of 14 has been made a fundamental right. Various safeguards for child labourers have been provided in the Factories Act (1948), the Mines Act (1950), the Plantation Labour Act (1951) and other Acts. In 1974, India adopted a resolution on National Policy for Children. In 1975, the government introduced the Integrated Child Development Programme. The enactment of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regu­lation) Act of 1986 has been the starting point of the government’s active intervention in this field. The second major initiative has been the formulation of the National Policy on Child Labour (1987). It aims at tackling the problem in a phased manner with a three-pronged strategy: I amending the legislation to give it more teeth and strength­ening the mechanism for its stricter enforcement; focusing on development programmes for the benefit of child labour; and initiating rehabilitation schemes for children with­drawn from employment and providing them education, health care and vocational training.

Constitutional provisions and legislations alone, how­ever, cannot combat the menace unless these are supple­mented by comprehensive socio-economic programmes and educational uplift, and total change in the social psyche and attitude. The government cannot be expected to achieve much on its own; it is essential to involve in the effort various voluntary organisations and the employers them­selves who depend to a large extent on the child labour force. It would also be more purposeful to have a single ministry or department at the Centre to deal with the problems of children in place of the existing multiplicity of authority: that would optimise the operational coherence and all-round economy. A joint committee of Parliament can also be set up to constantly review the policies and programmes regarding child labour. A strong parliamentary pressure group on behalf of this unrepresented constituency will be an institutional catalyst. At the micro level, the working conditions of children can effectively he improved; holidays and medical help should be ensured. Atrocities­both mental and physical-perpetrated by employers should be detected and severely punished. And the debts of parents should not be visited on the heads of their children.

Child labor is a global problem. If child labour is to be eradicated, the governments and agencies and those responsible for enforcement need to start doing their jobs. The most important thing is to increase awareness and keep discussing ways and means to check this problem. We have to decide whether we are going to take up the problem head-on and fight it any way we can or leave it to the adults who might not be there when things go out of hand.

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