Dr. Jayantilal Bhandari

    With the heralding of the new millennium, and the challenges that have appeared globally, the problem of child labour stands among the most acute ones. Millions of children in the world have been forced into child labour owing either to non-schooling or to school dropouts at the initial stage. Child labour may be defined as one who has not yet attained the age of 14 years and whose physical, mental and social development has suffered due to his pre-mature employment .

    In the densely-populated poor and developing countries, the problem of child labour is acute. India is no exception. A World Bank Report published in January, 2000 has revealed that there are six crore working children in India-the largest in terms of any country in the world. They include the one-and-a-half crore working children. Elimination of child labour is no doubt a big challenge for facing the country today. The Union Labour Minister Dr. Satya Narayan Jatiya says that the Government has adpted a progressive and integrated approach to eliminate child labour in the country.

    In order to resolve this socio-economic problem, a multi-dimensional action plan involving awareness generation among all sections of the society is required. In creating a national awareness campaign for the elimination of child labour , the non-government organisations (NGOs) and the mass media have also to complement the governmental efforts.

    The actual number of working children in the country is very large. People at large as well as the public representatives are greatly concerned with the magnitude of the child labour problem in the country at present. Its intensity was felt as early as five decades ago when the Constitution of India was framed . Various Articles prohibit the employment of children in factories.Under Article 24 it has been stated that no child below the age of 14 shall be employed in any factory or mine or other hazardous occupation or work. Similarly, Article 31 provides that the State shall ensure that adolescent children are not forced to accept an employment detrimental to their age and physical ability owing to economic compulsions. Children are provided opportunities to develop in a healthy manner and in a free and respectful situation where they are protected against exploitation of their childhood and youth and against their moral or physical abandonment. Article 45 provides for free and compulsory education for children under the schedule of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 and employment of children is prohibited in 12 occupations and 51 hazardous processes.

Child Labour Policy

    The Government of India formulated the National Child Labour Policy in 1987 to tackle the problem. An action plan has been drawn up under this policy which includes a statutory action plan for benefiting the working children. Under this, focus has been laid on launching a project-based action plan in areas where children are engaged in paid or under-paid occupations. The National Agenda for Governance (1998) mentions the steps to be taken for eliminating child labour in the country.These include rehabilitation of child labour,implementation of the National Child Labour Projects, grants-in-aid to the voluntary agencies and promoting International Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour. For the rehabilitation of working children, special schools and rehabilitation centres have been established where there is a provision of informal education, vocational training and nutrition for the children relieved from work. Under this project, so far 2418 schools have been established in 85 districts across the country in which 139494 children have been enrolled so far. But a majority of such schools and their beneficiaries are in the districts of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa .

    An international programme for the elimination of child labour has also been implemented in India by the International Labour Organisation. Under this programme, financial assistance, awareness-creation, rehabilitation and education are provided for the elimination of child labour. Even in the International Labour Conferences held during 1998-99 effective efforts were initiated by India focussing on child labour problem. Apart from these a number of child labour study groups and committees like the Harbans Singh Committee, Gurpadswami Committee, Sanad Mehta Committee, and Singhvi Committee have made their suggestions. Inspite of these efforts, the number of working children in India is shocking. As per the 1981 census, the country had 1.36 crore child labourers which came down to 1.13 crore in 1991.

    These children work in agricultural farms and lands or are engaged in conventional industrial occupations. Andhra Pradesh has the largest number of 17 lakh children as per the 1991 census. The other States having more than 10 lakh working children are Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. More than 90 per cent of these children are engaged in rural sectors, i.e., agriculture and its allied activities like harvesting, farming, animal husbandary, forestry and fishing. Presently, the child labourers are concentrated mainly in Sivakasi ,Tamil Nadu(matches and fireworks industries), in Uttar Pradesh, Firozabad, (glass industry), Khurja (pottery), Mirzapur-Bhadohi (carpet), Moradabad (brassware), Aligarh (lock making); in Rajasthan, Jaipur (gems and jewellery); in Madhya Pradesh, Sagar (biri), and Mandsaur (slate industry) . The latest report of the World Bank reveals that child labourers in India are forced to join work ranging from prostitution to hazardous occupations. For want of suitable conditions at their work places lakhs of child labourers have become permanently sick.

    On reviewing the factors behind the prevalence of child labour, we find that casteism, poverty, family size of family and poor income, and education are some of the major factors that have intensified the problem of child labour in India. The Gurupadswami Committee report shows that problem of child labour is a direct result of poverty where elimination in itself is a great problem.

    The child labour problem is an intense socio-economic issue in India that requires a long-term multi-pronged strategy to the carried out on a continuous basis. This strategy should include enforcement of Child Labour Acts, strengthening of primary education in the rural areas, rehabilitation of child labour, improvement of economic conditions of the child’s parents through various poverty alleviation and employment generation programmes . It is also necessary that a strong evaluation and monitoring be done for the various child labour elimination programmes and projects. A strong enforcement of the Labour Acts may be done to ensure legal actions against those who employ children for work. The child labour problem is an evil that requires awareness and change of approach in all sections of the society. The Government, media and NGOs have to unite to play their proper role in this holistic task.Only then the child labour problem can be solved effectively.