Child labour is one of the gravest problems faced by the Indian society for a long time. It has been around for decades. When a child is pushed into work, it snatches from him his chances of getting a happy and fulfilling childhood. At the same time, it robs children of their true potential, hampers their physical and mental health and goes against their dignity. Poor education that goes hand in hand with child labour plagues India and is a big roadblock in India’s economic development.
Understanding the Problem of Child Labour through Numbers
The 2001 Census of India figures pegged the number of children involved in child labour (age group of 5-14 years) at a staggering 1.26 crore! This was out of the total child population of 25.3 crore at that time. Out of this, approximately, 12 lakh children worked in hazardous occupations/processes
which are covered under the Schedule of the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act (the Schedule includes 18 occupations and 65 processes). In 2004-05, the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) conducted a survey and determined the number of working children to be 90.75 lakhs. But real good news emerged in the findings of 2011 Census which revealed that the number of working children in the age group of 5-14 years had plummeted significantly to 43.53 lakh. This was the result of several grass root level initiatives taken by the government (both Central and State) and NGOs like Save the Children to tackle the menace of child labour. Donate to a children’s charity today if you want to contribute your bit in battling the problem of child labour.
Initiatives Taken by the Government to Prevent Child Labour
In 1979, the Central Government formed the first statutory committee to analyse and research on the issue of child labour in India – the Gurupadswamy Committe. The committee was also tasked with making certain recommendations to curb child labour. The Committee studied the problem in great detail and made some truly insightful recommendations. One of their major observations was that the problem of child labour is inextricably linked to poverty. Helping poor to come out from the shackles of poverty was important to curtail the level of child labour. The Committee stated that till the time poverty continues, it would be not be possible to fully eliminate child labour and therefore efforts to abolish it through legal means will not yield the desired results. The Committee felt that in these circumstances, the only alternative left was to ban child labour in hazardous areas and to regulate and improve the conditions of work in other areas.
Taking into the account the findings and recommendations of the Gurupadswamy Committee, the Union Government enacted the Child Labour (Prohibition and & Regulation) Act in 1986. The Act prohibited children from being employed in specified hazardous occupations and at the same time regulated their working condition in other non-hazardous occupations and processes. The Act had a ‘Schedule’ which would enlist the hazardous occupations and processes. This Schedule was progressively expanded during the next many years on the basis of the recommendations of the Child Labour Technical Advisory Committee constituted under the Act.
In May of last year (2015), a major amendment was made to this Act which stipulated that children between 5-14 years are not to be employed in any occupation (except in the entertainment industry). But much to the chagrin of child rights activists, who sought a blanket ban on child labour, the amendment also mandated that children may be allowed to work in non-hazardous family enterprises.
Steps Taken by Non Government Organizations and Activists
Numerous child rights activists and NGOs have been at the forefront of tackling the problem of child labour in India. Spreading awareness is the key to end child labour. Parents and the communities should be made to realize that a child belongs to school and not to fields and factories. Working in the remotest corners of the country, NGOs like Save the Children run programmes at the ground-level to eradicate child labour. Some prominent initiatives include:
- Educating the communities about the ills attached to child labour and discouraging them from sending their children to work
- Increasing enrolment rates and improving education quality so that more children reach school and stay there.
- Mapping of child laborers, vulnerable children and out-of-school children and facilitating their movement to schools
- Setting up of bridge schools for child labourers and grooming them to take the leap to formal schooling
- Rehabilitation and counselling of former child labourers and sending them to school.
Thus we see that through a number of coordinated measures, the government and the civil society organisations can work collaboratively to battle this social ill and ensure that no child loses their childhood working in fields and factories.
Child labour destroys childhoods. It is detrimental to a child’s physical and psyschological well-being. It is plain unacceptable. Will you help us battle this menace?