The vicious circle of child labour in India
Rachel Arora, merinews
01 March 2007, Thursday
The basic right of every human being is the Right to Happiness. But do the child labourers enjoy this basic right? No. While these children work in inhuman conditions, we live for ourselves and take delight in the agony of other people.
Child labour is one glaring issue that needs attention. It is one of the most persistent social issues that has gripped our nation since decades. We call ourselves responsible citizens but the honesty with which we need to tackle this issue seems to be missing. The government as on many other issues, makes promises but fails to deliver. The few initiatives that it tends to take are inadequate and insufficient to handle this problem.
Child labour is an issue of serious concern that requires fervent investigation. A general understanding of the problem indicating that children are being exploited and forced into labour has raised many questions concerning the government and the socio-economic status of our country. It has also raised alarming facts about the Welfare Organizations and their role in preventing the situation from getting any worse.
It is estimated that there are between 60 and 115 million working children in India as per the Human Rights Watch, 1996. UNICEF states figures ranging from75 to 90 million child labourers under the age of 14 years. This points to the fact that India has the largest number of child labourers anywhere in the world.
Child labour has been classified into nine categories under the 1981 Census of India: Cultivation, Agricultural Labour, Livestock, Forestry, Fishing, Plantation, Mining and Quarrying, Trade and Commerce, Transport, Storage and Communication and Other Services.
Another harsh fact reveals that most children in the manufacturing industry are bonded child labourers. Bonded Labour is the phenomenon of children working in conditions of slavery in order to pay off debt. There are almost one million bonded labours in India.
Shanti, 32, is a maid working in Delhi. She has 8 children and a drunkard husband to support. She lives in a slum in the Nizamuddin area and works in five households and has an earning of only Rs 1500 each month. She says that her children cannot go to school because she is unable to afford it. Moreover, she needs a few helping hands in the house. Two of her daughters aged 11 and 13 are working in local households to survive and support the family.
According to Malti, 26, it is essential for Birju, her 11-year-old son to work in order to keep the income flowing in. Birju, who works in a tea stall, barely gets a wage of Rs 250 per month.
Madhu Mehta, 47, is the wife of a rich businessman residing in Lajpat Nagar in New Delhi. She has a 10 year old ‘Chotu’ serving her and her family. He sweeps and swabs, does the dishes, the laundry, wakes up at five in the morning and goes to bed at 11:30 in the night. Madhu is defiant on being asked why she has appointed a child in her house. After much pestering she blurts out that Chotu’s parents were very poor and that they had no other option other than sending him to the city to work. They were lucky enough to have found him through a local broker who arranged for children like Chotu to work in rich households. Chotu works for a monthly wage of Rs 700.
Kailash and Mapia reside in a slum near Shahadra in Delhi. Back home, in Bengal they urgently needed money as Kailash had met with an accident. They had no other option but to sell the services of Chunni, their 9 year old daughter to the village Zamindaar.
Child labour is prevalent in one of its most heinous states in India. It is a source of income for poor families and the rights of the children go down the drain. A household in India that is subject to poverty essentially requires the services of children below the age group if 14 years. A child’s income contribution is between 34-37% of the total income generated in the household.
The lack of a sound Social Security Network combined with social evils like ignorance and poverty form the platform for child labour and its sister concern bonded child labour. This lays emphasis on the fact, as happened in the case of Kailash and Mapia that lack of bank loans, government loans and other credit sources increases the chances of more poor families succumbing to child bonded labour. The system operates in a detestable manner. When there is nowhere to go, people seek help from the local moneylender in exchange for their child’s services. Since the earnings of bonded child labourers are less than the interest applied on the loan, these children are forced to work as slaves while interest on their loans accumulates. The bonded child can only be released if his parents make a lump sum payment, which is not possible for the poor families.
According to the Indian Government Policy on Child Labour no child can be employed below the age of 14 years. The Bonded Labour Act of 1976 confirms the Indian Constitution’s directive of ending forced labour. The Act frees bonded labourers by the State. The Child Labour Act was implemented in the year 1986 and clearly stated that the minimum employment age was 15 years.
In August 1994, a development came about in the field of child welfare by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao who proposed to eliminate child labour thus relieving 2 million children from the treacherous oppression. The programme further pledged to motivate children to leave their work and enter non-formal schooling by offering an incentive of Rs100 and a meal a day on attending school.
Child labour is an agonizing reality in our nation. It is a gruesome as well as horrendous crime. But if we claim to be moral citizens we must collectively aid towards the eradication of this social evil. We are sleeping with our eyes wide open.
If someone appoints a Chotu in the neighborhood and we know it is wrong, what do we do about it? It’s high time for us to wake up. Children are vulnerable and innocent. We must raise our voice in unison for their cause. You are yourself a criminal if you support a crime.
Child labour needs to be brought to an end. The next time you speak rudely with the tiny chaiwala or criticize the work of Chotu, remember that you are committing an unforgivable crime.