A child labourer holds up a placard demanding the abolition of child labour in India as another one bursts into tears during a demonstration on Saturday in New Delhi. According to International Labour Organisation, there are 250 million child labourers in the world, out of which 60 million are in India. — AFP photo.
Poor children in India begin working at a very young and tender age. Many children have to work to help their families and some families expect their children to continue the family business at a young age.
India has all along followed a proactive policy in the matter of tackling the problem of child labour. India has always stood for constitutional, statutory and developmental measures that are required to eliminate child laborr in India. Indian Constitution consciously incorporated relevant provisions in the Constitution to secure compulsory universal elementary education as well as labor protection for children.
Though most children begin working at a young age due to economic reasons, doing so allows them to break from some social constraints.
Indian Government policies on Child Labor in India
India's policy on child labour has evolved over the years against this backdrop. The present regime of laws relating to Child Labor in India have a pragmatic foundation and are consistent with the International Labour Conference resolution of 1979.
The policy of the government is to ban employment of children below the age of fourteen years in factories, mines and hazardous employment and to regulate the working conditions of children in other employment. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 seeks to achieve this basic objective.
Through a notification dated May 26, 1993, the working conditions of children have been regulated in all employment which are not prohibited under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act. Following up on a preliminary notification issued on October 5, 1993, the government has also prohibited employment of children in occupation processes like abattoirs /slaughter houses, printing, cashewnut descaling and processing, and soldering.
Children perform a variety of jobs: some work in factories, making products such as carpets and matches; others work on plantations, or in the home.
For boys the type of work is very different because they often work long hours doing hard physical labor outside of the home for very small wages.
The government has made efforts to prohibit child labor by enacting Child labor laws in India including the 1986 Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act that stated that children under fourteen years of age could not be employed in hazardous occupations.
This act also attempted to regulate working conditions in the jobs that it permitted, and put greater emphasis on health and safety standards.
LITTLE HELP? In this photograph, Nurba Kahtun, a seven-year-old girl, breaks stones on the bank of India's Balason river. (Strdel/AFP/Getty Images)
Maybe I'm the only guy in Australia who's sick of all this India vs Australia cricket controversy. But I just feel like shouting:
It's only a game for crying out loud!
It's all the media is interested in at the moment - furious Indian cricket fans, burning effigies of umpires. This just seems to be an utterly ridiculous waste of rage to me so I thought I'd share some other things Indians could get passionate about besides cricket.
Poverty is still a massive problem effecting human rights in India. Even though their economy is booming - the wealth is not trickling down to the millions of people living in poverty:
47% of Indian kids under five (1996-2005) are suffering from being moderately to severely underweight.
The flip side to the boom in India's economy has been an over 10% increase in the number of child labourers in the decade since the opening up of the market, according to a study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The Indian Government says there are 12 million child laborers in India although activists say the real number is closer to 60 million!!
UNICEF statistics show that 46% of children are still being forced into child marriages in India.
Surely these are some issues more worthy of everyone's passion and outrage? Child labour is something that I'm particularly angry about. It's an abhorrent yet still mainly invisible and accepted form of slavery. It should be outlawed! If you're interested in helping rescue children around the world from child labour, child trafficking and sexual exploitation, World Vision has a special Child Rescue pledge program for $15 a month.
Fight for the rights of children
We fight for our rights at home for almost everything from late nights to going out of station with friends. We chat about human rights with our parents, teachers and friends. But have we ever thought about the children who are forced to work and do not even have basic rights?
India has the largest number of children employed than any other country in the world. According to the statistics provided by The Government of India around 90 million out of 179 million children in the six to 14 age group do not go to school and are engaged in some occupation or other. This means that close to 50 per cent of children are deprived of their right to a free and happy childhood.
Unofficially, this figure exceeds 100 million but the fact that a large number of these children work without wages in fields or in cottages alongside their parents, unreported by census, makes it very difficult to estimate accurately. However, it is estimated that if these working children constituted a country, it would be the 11th largest country in the world.
A large number of children work in cottage industries producing carpets, matches, firecrackers, bidis, brassware, diamond, glass, hosiery, hand loomed cloth, embroidery, leather goods, plastic, bangles and sporting goods. The highest number of children are found working in the agricultural sector.
Poverty has often been cited as the reason for the child labour problem in India. While it is true that the poorest, most disadvantaged sectors of Indian society suply the vast majority of child labourers, child labour actually creates an perpetuates poverty as it displaces adults from their jobs and also condemns the child to a life of unskilled badly paid work.
Merely passing laws is obviously not the solution, as they need to be enforced, in which our country has a poor track record. What are the causes for child labour? One can attribute it to various factors -- unemployment, low wages, poor standards of living, ignorance and illiteracy, social attitudes, and the like. Together they culminate in poverty and exploitation. The poor would rather have children who work to supplement the income. There are many cases where the parents sell their children as bonded labour for a petty sum of money. Banning child labour therefore is not the solution, nor is the step by the U.S. and Europe to ban carpets from India.
Ignorance is one of the main problems; ignorance on the part of the parents who believe that with the children working, poverty will be eradicated; and ignorance on the part of the children who do not know their rights in this country. The working conditions of the children are inhuman and the incomes given are also meagre. Eighty per cent of the children work in hazardous conditions.
At present, the legislations in India only specifically outlaw child labour in designated hazardous industries and bonded child labour, but both Article 24 of the Indian Constitution and Section 67 of the Factories Act explicitly direct that children below the age of 14 years are not to work in factories. In addition, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 forbids the employment of children in specified hazardous industries.
The Supreme Court ruling of December 10, 1996, in an attempt to fill the loopholes left in previous legislation and to bring in judicial activism to social issues ordered the setting up of a fund for the child workers aimed at controlling and eventually eliminating child labour across the length and breadth of the entire country. While setting out a long list of child labour monitoring obligations of the State Governments, it also prescribes heavy fines for employers caught with children at work. In addition, India has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Laws pertaining to Child Labour:
Children [Pledging of Labour] Act (1933)
Employment of Children Act (1938)
The Bombay Shop and Establishments Act (1948)
Child Labour -Prohibition and Regulation Act
The Indian Factories Act (1948)
Plantations Labour Act (1951)
The Mines Act (1952)
Merchant Shipping Act (1958)
The Apprentice Act (1961)
The Motor Transport Workers Act (1961)
The Atomic Energy Act (1962)
Bidi and Cigar Workers (Condition of Employment) Act (1966)
State Shops and Establishments Act
What you can do -- JOIN THE GLOBAL MARCH AGAINST CHILD LABOUR
In June 1998, when the International Labour Conference (ILO) will debate a new Convention on Child Labour, a huge motivated and determined group of people will swarm the streets of Geneva. Coming from five continents and marching for five months, they comprise the Global March Against Child Labour.
The marchers may have traveled by bus, plane, boat or may have walked some distance. They may have taken over "the torch" from other marchers along the road. They will end up in Geneva to mark the importance of the ILO discussions.
Though the March is spearheaded by a few select organisations working on various issues related to human rights, we think that the real strength lies with you -- the general people. The pith of this movement is the actual junta. Issues of child labour has reached such demonic proportions that until the people at the grassroots are mobilised enough, desired results will remain a far away dream. The Global March is but a fraction of our continuous efforts towards stopping child labour globally, and to make it a success, every sincere offer of help is welcome.
Marching along with the Core Marchers is not the only way to express your concern for this scourge. Every person, individually or collectively, can affect a change if he/she is sensitive and observant to this growing menace. You may be a student or a teacher, a parent or a child, an employee or an employer, each of you can help make the March and its cause reach the cherished goal.
What we demand is not impossible, neither is child labour the 'normal' process of a developing economy, as some groups will want you to believe. The use and abuse of these little souls is an unpardonable sin. Simply blaming the ineffectiveness of the laws and lackadaisical attitude of the lawmakers will not absolve us of our responsibility. The roots of this growing affliction has the capacity and strength to grow deeper and wider unless every heart, every mind and everybody sheds the complacent attitude and makes small but significant steps towards its complete elimination.
Babu, a six-year-old Indian boy, works with his grandmother despite a new law prohibiting child labour in India.
The Kerala difference
A boy working in a hotel in Thiruvananthapuram. Though child labour is declining in the State, children of school-going age still work as domestics and street vendors, in hotels and in various other occupations.
AS Kerala celebrates the 50th anniversary of its formation, it can be proud of an important facet of its society: the determination among all sections of people to send children to school.
Consider this anecdote quoted in a recent survey report titled "Kerala Study: How Kerala Lives, How Kerala Thinks" by the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), the people's science movement. It says: "Joseph is a labourer. He got a house and a small piece of land [from the government] during the decentralisation campaign. But the building is incomplete. He works hard as a habit. But his home does not have basic amenities. Asked why, Joseph said: `I work hard for the educational progress of my children. Other things can wait.'"
All over the State, one can see such people, especially among the poor, belonging to all castes and religions, proclaiming the prime reason behind their everyday toil: the education of their children, the one factor that often gets priority over almost all other needs.
Such a pervasive determination in society finds most of the children in the 6-14 age group in schools rather than in places of hazardous, menial occupations. Kerala has a very low incidence of child labour, in spite of widespread poverty and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
Census figures show that there were 1.11 lakh child labourers in Kerala in 1971, 92,854 in 1981, 34,800 in 1991 and 26,156 in 2001. A State government survey in 1996 concluded that there were only 10,067 child labourers; another one, conducted in 2004 by the State Statistics Department, said there were only 375 children, but it was rejected by the Labour Department as "unreliable".
The Department is about to organise a survey that will aim at providing a reasonable estimate of the number of children still involved in hazardous jobs after the amended law came into force on October 10.
Eradication not total
The trend is declining, all agree, but children of school-going age in the State still work as domestics and street traders and in wayside restaurants and hotels, the construction sector, the cashew industry, brick kilns, railway yards, marble-polishing and prawn-peeling sheds and in the fisheries sector.
"Poverty, broken families, sick parents, poor educational attainments and destitution still drive children to work for a living in Kerala. Some are there to learn a family trade. A silent lot work as maids. Most are migrants to the urban centres and many come from neighbouring States," says Celine Sunny, chief coordinator of the Research Institute of the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in Kochi, which has conducted studies on child labour in Kerala, including one sponsored by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Fr. Philip Parakatt of the Don Bosco Society (an agency engaged in the rehabilitation of children) and director of Childline in Thiruvananthapuram told Frontline that the number of child labourers in Kerala today would definitely be "over 10,000" but 90 per cent of them, significantly, are migrants from States such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Bihar.
According to Prakash S. Oliver, Additional Labour Commissioner and Nodal Officer for the Prevention of Child Labour in the State, children below the age of 14 are still employed as domestics and in dhabas, restaurants, hotels, motels, teashops, resorts and recreational centres. Raids conducted by the Labour Department since the amendment to the 1986 Act came into force on October 10 have indicated that the case of boys and girls engaged in domestic work is especially rampant and well established through a network of agents in the Muslim-dominated northern districts.
In south Kerala, migrant businessmen from neighbouring States bring with them children "of relatives" to work 12 to 18 hours in restaurants or as attendants in provision shops. About 5,000 such children from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have returned home in the first two weeks after the raids began in the southern districts, according to the official.
Only 22 children were "rescued" by the Department, mostly in Thiruvananthapuram, and were sent home to their parents.
Traders who descend on tourist centres such as Kovalam from Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka similarly bring groups of children to work for them in massage parlours and in handicraft and petty trades during the peak tourist season. They invariably refer to the children as "relatives" but most of them are "physically, mentally and sexually exploited". In an inquiry conducted in early October, the Department identified 300 such children in the tourist resort of Kovalam, Prakash said.
There are a sizeable number of children working in cashew factories, brick kilns and mosaic-polishing units too. However, in most cases, the government finds it hard to rehabilitate rescued children, even though the State has, in addition to the juvenile homes and welfare centres run by the government, a variety of support structures run by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and religious groups. For example, there are over 2.5 lakh cashew workers in Kollam district,and in most cases, since women too are employed in the factories, they find it safer to take their children - especially the girls - along when they go to work, rather than leave them alone in the housing colonies. In the case of migrant children, though temporary shelters may be available, education is a problem as most of them do not understand the local language, Prakash said. They are forced to return to poverty and hunger in their native States.
According to Fr. Philip, among the most paying options available to children is beggary organised by agents or families, especially on trains, in railway stations and at bus stops.
Day-long `labour' on seven or eight crowded trains, with 10 to 12 bogies, that shuttle between two major stops would fetch a child a total of at least Rs.200 to Rs.300 a day. Back-breaking work in hotels fetches Rs.40 to Rs.70 a day. In many cases where agents are involved, a bulk amount is paid to the child's family in advance after deducting the agent's commission. The children earn nothing for themselves.
Street children have been found to spend their entire day's wages immediately on food, watching adult movies, or buying drugs, alcohol and other addictive substances; they feel insecure carrying money on them. These children are a challenge to those involved in their rehabilitation, he said. But such a microscopic, critical view of the child labour scene in Kerala should not deflect attention from the larger picture that the State offers in comparison to other regions in India.
Reasons for low incidence
Kerala's low incidence of child labour undoubtedly presents a lesson on how an entire society can be tuned to send its children to school even though it may still be struggling with poverty and relatively low family incomes.
The State achieved it by dismantling extreme forms of gender and caste discrimination and class oppression that had all along been a curse of universal education. It is the result of a historical process that is at the very root of all the acclaimed social and development achievements of Kerala. It includes the late 19th century activities of Christian (mainly Protestant) missionaries that bore the seeds of educational and social reforms, the wholehearted support that they received from the enlightened rulers of the State, the importance that a largely matrilineal society gave to the health and education of women, and the various social reforms and Left movements that had helped demolish social and class barriers and eventually led to a revolutionary transformation of agrarian relations in the State.
At the centre of all this is the progressive attitude Kerala society had displayed towards the survival and education of women. Today, Kerala has achieved a demographic transition (low birth rate-low death rate) that has effectively reduced the school-age population. The State has one lower primary school for every square kilometre and a high school for every 4 sq. km.
Enrolment at the primary level is near universal, and there has been an impressive growth in the average years of schooling, with parents showing no gender bias in educating their children.
"What the State needs is a committed resolve not to rest on its laurels. It requires a concerted effort from the various agencies involved to weed out the vestiges of the evil practice of child labour in Kerala. It also needs to find solutions to new problems, especially of those of migrant child labourers. That is no easy task," Fr. Philip said.
For most of the europeans, child labour is something which is very very far away. For me, here in Bangalore, child labour is every day life. In my actual hometown, it is absolutely normal that many kids don’t go to school, but to work.
Children are mostly used for dirty and/or unhealthy work. They clean the tables in restaurants, they are crawling around your feets to clean the floor while you’re eating. You’ll meet them on the toilet, where they hand you a tissue to dry your hands and where they scrub the urinals and the wc. They dig wholes on lots or carry heavy bags with sand or cement. If they are lucky, they ‘only’ have to work as hawkers.
When you live here, you have no chance to avoid places where kids are used as workers, because child labour is practised almost everywere. I think that’s one part of ‘Incredible India’ I will never get used to.
Chunam Kumari, has become the poster girl against child labour in India. Chunam Kumari with the poster....
I was browsing through the net when I came across this article. Child labour is an issue that needs to be seriously addressed. Many individuals as well as organizations have been striving to put an end to this problem.
Reading this article made me think again......about the purpose of UNICEF. I mean....yeah they claim to be a UN Agency that's there to keep a look out for the children of the world. They are supposedly an organization that strives to ensure that each child's right to a normal life is respected...yadi-yadi-yada....
But I sometimes wonder......how much of this is lipservice....and how much of it is really genuine? Do these people in UNICEF really, genuinely care about what happens to children? or is being a part of UNICEF just a job to them?
I have come across people who claim they work to ensure a better life for children....but hmm when one looks carefully at their actions.....'Actions seldom match the words uttered'.
Somehow...datelines....budgets....fitting in with their yearly focus....etc seems to become the more important point to focus on...compared to "The best interest of the child"......
Whatever happened to acting in the best interest of the child?
It also got me thinking about...why people conduct surveys in the first place? What's the purpose of commissioning surveys and finding out certain information if these information is not to be used for the betterment of the surveyed?
A case to point is the reaction of the UNICEF representative in the article below......aih....I really wish I could do more.....It won't be much I know....but something is better than nothing I guess...... Child labour poster girl still working By Amarnath Tewary Patna, Bihar
Chunam Kumari has become the 'poster girl' against child labour
8-year-old Chunam Kumari's face is plastered all over the northern Indian state of Bihar in posters campaigning against child labour.
Nothing surprising about that - Chunam was picked by the United Nation's Children's Fund (Unicef) to be their poster girl in an awareness campaign about child labour in this impoverished state.
What is surprising is that Chunam continues to work 12 hours a day at her father's ramshackle roadside food stall in the capital, Patna, cleaning creaky wooden tables, washing utensils and serving up cheap meals.
Last month, a new law came into force nationwide banning children under 14 from working as domestic servants or on food stalls. It also prevents children from working in teashops, restaurants, spas, hotels, resorts and other recreational centres.
Critics warned that the problems in enforcing the law were immense.
Chunam Kumari is an example of that. In the Unicef poster, in which she appears smilingly in a yellow flowery frock, Chunam appeals "for no more child labour as this age is to read and keep growing". But like her two brothers and six sisters, she has never been to school.
The makeshift food stall where she helps her parents is almost next door to the offices of Bihar's ruling parties, the Janata Dal (United) and Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP).
Chunam's father, Baleshwar Das, says nobody took his consent for using his daughter's photograph for the campaign.
"We are poor, illiterate people struggling to make ends meet," he says.
That is disputed by Unicef's communications officer Meital Rusdia. She says Unicef has Baleshwar's consent in writing with them.
"We are going to try to meet him to try to get to the bottom of this," she told the BBC News website.
Asked whether it was ironic that a girl used in a campaign against child labour was still working, Ms Rusdia says: "I don't think so. In fact the girl put on the poster by Unicef was the true face of about 2.3 million children in Bihar who could not go to school."
Chunam has never gone to school
Some critics have suggested that Unicef itself should be doing more to help the girl.
But Unicef says that the rehabilitation of child workers is not its job.
"We would like to emphasise that we sought to raise awareness through the [recently concluded] campaign and, being a technical agency, we don't run or own institutions to rehabilitate child labour," says Ms Rusdia.
Oblivious of the furore, Chunam continues to work hard at the eatery - and giggles every time she sees her face on a poster.
India has more than 12.6 million child workers, many of whom are employed in the food and hospitality sector.
Many parents say crippling poverty forces them to send their children, sometimes as young as five or six, to work in other people's homes or in factories.
Most of these children are made to work in unhealthy conditions for long hours and paid poorly.
where is govt.?
Can we blame govt. completely? This is a question without an answer. No one can put any kind of remark on this. Looking at China today, we can blame the government for sure. In China, the government had made a compulsion stating that ‘It is good to have just one child'. The couples which had more than one were not given job in any government office. If Chinese couples had one child, the whole education for that kid was free till the kid was 16. That was a great drive and today even being a country with the largest population in the world, their birth rate has decreased.
Now who is to be blamed? Not sure as yet. I think if our politicians and government officials decrease 50% of their (personal) money making process, we can do something better. I see lot of N.G.Os working on this. They are really trying hard. I wish they can do some more, if people come forward to help them. If a person can give at least 2000 Rs per annum to any N.G.O. who takes care of the children, it will be really helpful for them.
Yeah. Our government has one more view on Child labor. For that, recently all the child labors, who were picked from different working places, wrote a letter to the government of Maharashtra asking them to give proper liberty to all children, liberty in terms of work.
Their point was about kids working in Movies/Serials/Ads.
Their letter stated. 'Why are only we stopped to work? Why are the kids working in movies, ads, and serials not stopped? Isn't that child labor? They have money, and we earn for our families, because there is no other way to maintain the whole family. Will the government ever make us study and provide food and living or job to our elder family members? If they are ready to do so, we also won’t work. We also want to play, and not work. But we have to do it, either willingly or unwillingly. At least the parents, whose kids are earning or else have a good life, should help us'. This letter shattered me. These kids were right. The N.G.O.'s take children away from Child labor, and serve them with good living and education. What do the government authorities do? Even if they are doing, are we able to get any results? Is their pace too slow against Child labor? Or are they too lazy to make the whole process speed up? There are kids who are abandoned and they have to work to feed themselves. What should the government do for them? Lots of questions are there, but answers?
The last resolution by me is that I am clueless about all this. I don't know whether posting this issue was right or wrong. Don't the poor kids deserve to play and go to school? I am against Child labor too and I try to educate people who employ kids. Some are too rude to be educated. Yeah but I do try to donate some amount annually to some N.G.O., and try to go with them to do some social work to educate employers, not to employ kids, instead help the people who work towards educating them. Can anyone get the right way to decrease Child labor? Answers? Anyone???
01 July 2006: After nearly 59 years of Independence and over a decade after India became a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Child Rights, our children continue to be the most neglected segment. Statistics reveal that India has 17 million child labourers -- the highest in the world. Lack of awareness about the basic rights of a child has lead to easy violation of laws meant to protect and empower children. In homes, on the streets and in sweatshops, children are being exploited by the thousands.
Where do these children work?
Over half of the working children (54%) are in agriculture, and most others are employed either in construction (15.5%) or in household work (18%). About 5% are in manufacturing jobs, and the remainder (about 8%) are scattered across other forms of employment. The table below provides a gender-wise breakup of working children, and their schooling status. Please note that the data are for children in the age group 5-14 years.
Children of Age Group (5-14 years)
Number of Children (%)
Number of Children (in 100's)
Children engaged in "economic activities"
Attended domestic duties only
Attended domestic duties plus free collection of goods, tailoring, weaving for HH only