Child labour: From ‘exploitation’ to ‘compulsion’

“It remains a reality for 160 million children”
Image for representational purpose only
Image for representational purpose only Flickr

It was heartening to learn that the Jammu & Kashmir government is seriously working on the rehabilitation of children in street situations (CISS). Basically, last week I came across a lead news item in the “Morning Kashmir” - a local English daily, highlighting the recommendation of the J&K government in its draft policy for rehabilitation of children in street situation (CISS) to file First Information Reports (FIRs) against those who hire children for work.

According to the report, the policy gives police and other agencies the authority to strictly enforce the anti-child labour legislation.

“Local police shall register an FIR against the perpetrators and employers of children for violation of Child Labour Act, 1986, Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 and Indian Penal Code 1860 on the statement of the child given before the Child Welfare Committee,” the policy document said.

Precisely, the administration has demanded that those who pay for or employ the services of youngsters be dealt with harshly.

Here, it is worth mentioning that we have laws in place that prohibit child labour and lay down punishment if a person violates it. However, these laws do not completely ban the employment of children in certain sectors. Teenagers above 14 years of age can be hired for jobs not considered as hazardous. This is what is contained in the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2016.

Precisely, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, regulates the laws related to child Labour. It also prohibits the employment of children between the age group of 14-18 years in dangerous occupations. Even as this law provides a protection to the children, the mass engagement of children working in hazardous fields is a common sight and all this is happening under the nose of authorities.

A report published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the occasion of World Day against Child Labour on June 12, last year revealed an ‘alarming’ increase in child labour with an addition of 8.4 million children in the last four years. The ILO report attributes the ‘alarming’ increase to the ongoing pandemic. As on date, the number of children in child labour has been reported at 160 million worldwide. The report has also found that the number of children between five and 17 exposed to hazardous work has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016.

The above stated figures suggest that child labour continues to be an unending menace and is a blot on the society. Even as it is always widely condemned, the fact is that it robs children of their childhood.

We find different geographies engaged in running programmes to eradicate child labour, but in reality, millions of child workers serve as a main source of income to families and fund their much needed livelihood.  For them financial support is more important than schooling for their survival.

At our place (J&K), we see new child faces taking up menial jobs every passing day to carve out their living. The rising number of child workers only indicates that all our constitutional safeguards have failed to curb the menace. Just lay your hands on any child worker to know what made him/her to work at such a tender age instead of going to a school. You will come across stunning facts.

Most of them would be school dropouts as their parents (bread earners) were consumed by the conflict and were left with no option but to take up some job to feed the family.

In many cases, you will find the parents of the child were crippled due to illness and the pressure on such children was enormous to carve out financial resources for the treatment expenses of their ailing parents.

There is also a section of child workers who are regular school and college goers, but use their spare time to earn for themselves. These are basically ‘minor teachers’ classes of child workers. You would usually find them exposed to severe health problems.

Precisely, child labour is present in every field, as for instance, automobile workshops, transport operations, tea stalls, hotels and restaurants, handicrafts, particularly carpet industry, small vending, black smithy, copper smithy and so on. Surprisingly, carpet industry considered as one of the backbones of our economy, has spinal cord in the child labour. In fact, our cultural industry, the handicrafts sector, is surviving because of child workers (artisans).

In other words, child labour has assumed significance of a ‘necessary evil’. In absolute poverty conditions, child labour would at least guard them against starvation. In the appropriate work environment, for a working child, it would be similar to apprenticeship that will serve him well as he becomes an adult. They would also develop socialisation skills on the job and would prevent them from evil activities thievery, begging, etc.

Obviously, this kind of ‘necessity’ has to be backed by adequate safeguards to protect the working children from all forms of abuse. This is where focus is needed

So, with all these arguments child labour will remain there. At the moment we don’t see its total eradication. It makes sense that instead of entirely focusing on wiping out evil, there’s a need to initiate programmes where better working conditions are put in place for these child workers.

Since working at a tender age poses several health problems for the child’s development, the government needs to ensure that at least their employers extend special health-care facilities to them. The working hours also need to be under check as long working hours would develop abnormal socialization skills in them. There is also a dire need to bring these child workers under the ambit of insurance cover. Non-governmental organizations can be roped in to tailor solutions to see better working conditions and simultaneously making some arrangements for their education needs.

In succinct, the world has been fighting to eradicate the evil practice of child labour, but the fact is that over a period of time the number of working children is only burgeoning. Its origin from an act of ‘exploitation’ has graduated into a ‘compulsion’ where a working child has now assumed the status of a serious bread-earner for the family. Here, a Twitter post by António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the UN on the occasion of Child Labour Day last year is worth mentioning. He said: “Child labour should have no place in today’s world, but sadly, it remains a reality for 160 million children”.

This post speaks the helplessness in curbing the child labour despite making efforts to curb it. In a way, the post subtly endorses the economic compulsions behind the surge in the number of working children.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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