India is home to the largest number of child labourers in the world, over 12.59 million! A major concern is that the actual number of child labourers goes undetected.
M.V. Foundation in Andhra Pradesh found nearly 400,000 children, mostly girls between seven and 14 years of age, toiling for 14-16 hours a day in cottonseed production. 40% of the labour in the gem- cutting sector is children. NGOs have discovered the use of child labourers in mining industry in Bellary and Meghalaya. There is a high employment of children in the zari and embroidery industry.
Employment of kids under the age of 15 is child labour. Poverty and lack of social security are the main causes. The increasing gap between the rich and the poor is another problem. Privatization of basic services and the neo-liberal economic policies removing the umbrella economic protection from major sections of the population. So they are without work and without basic needs. So what happens to their children? This adversely affects children of the poor more than any other group.
Lack of quality in state-funded education has also contributed to children dropping out of school and entering the labour force. Laws that are meant to protect children from hazardous labour are ineffective and not implemented correctly.
A growing phenomenon is using children as domestic workers in urban areas. The conditions in which children work is completely unregulated and they are often made to work without food, and very low wages, resembling situations of slavery. There are cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse of child domestic workers. The argument for domestic work is often that families have placed their children in these homes for care and employment. Though the Ministry of Labour has decreed that child domestic work as well as employment of children in dhabas, tea stalls and restaurants “hazardous” occupations, the practice continues.
Child Labour Day is when we, the ordinary citizens need to think about how to address the problem. It seems that this is not something that can be easily wished away. The government cannot provide free food to every child of unemployed citizens. So in a way all these laws prohibiting child labour are utopian in nature. We cannot feed the hungry children. We want to stop them from earning so they can fill their stomachs. NGOs see ‘exploitation’ at every turn. So what’s to be done?
Binita Pradhan, Siliguri