“A Child is a father of the man”( This famous line quoted by William Wordsworth refers to the importance of the child in a society for the development of society as well as for the development of the whole nation.). Child labour is done by any working child who is under the age specified by law. The word, “work” means full time commercial work to sustain self or add to the family income. Child labour is a hazard to a Child’s mental, physical, social, educational, emotional and spiritual development. Broadly any child who is employed in activities to feed self and family is being subjected to “child labour’.
Child labour is work that harms children or keeps them from attending school. The various problems arising in the countries economic, political and social condition is one of the major reasons for growth of this problem. The International Labour Organization estimates that 246 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 currently work under conditions that are considered illegal, hazardous, or extremely exploitative.
Child labour in India is a human right issue for the whole world. It is a serious and extensive problem, with many children under the age of fourteen working in carpet making factories, glass blowing units and making fireworks with bare little hands. According to the statistics given by Indian government there are 20 million child laborers in the country, while other agencies claim that it is 50 million.
United Nations secretary General Kofi Annan quoted, “Child labour has serious consequences that stay with the individual and with society for far longer than the years of childhood. Young workers not only face dangerous working conditions. They face long-term physical, intellectual and emotional stress. They face an adulthood of unemployment and illiteracy.”
Also former president of India and a well known scientist ‘Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Azad’ said, “All of us should feel proud on all literate, intellectuals, entrepreneurs and affluent citizens of the country but it should not be forgotten that such categories of persons are almost surrounded from all corners by large number of people who are poor, illiterate and malnutrition. They make our life comfortable and worth living by hard work of day and night and it may be dangerous to neglect them ….”
Who Is A Child:
Definition of child is subjective and depends upon the matters it is related to. In general term child is used for a person who on account of his young age, is considered to be of immature intellect ad imperfect discretion and thus unable to comprehend the consequences of his own act. Such a person is known as minor.
According to article 1 of United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child 1989:“A child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”
UNICEF defines child labour as work that exceeds a minimum number of hours, depending on the age of a child and on the type of work. Such work is considered harmful to the child and should therefore be eliminated.
Ages 5-11: At least one hour of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week.
Ages 12-14: At least 14 hours of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week.
Ages 15-17: At least 43 hours of economic or domestic work per week.
In case of child labour the definition of child can be referred under Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 it states that: Child means a person who had not completed 14 years of age.
From the above point, it is clear that a person up to the age of 14 year is a child while concerning child labour. Convention 59th of International Labour Organisation lays down that –“No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.”
Some Important Acts formulated to combat the problem of Child Labour
a. Minimum Wages Act, 1948: It provides for fixation of minimum time rate of wages by state government. It also includes the fixation of minimum piece rate of wages, guaranteed time rates for wages for different occupations and localities or class of work and adult, adolescence, children and apprentices. The act is aimed at occupations, which are less well organised and more difficult to regulate…where there is much scope for exploitation of labour.
b. The Plantation labour Act: The employment of children between the ages of 12 years is prohibited under the Act. However, the act permits the employment of child above 12 years only on a fitness certificate from the appointed surgeon.
c. The Mines Act, 1952: It states that no child shall be employed in any mines nor shall any child be allowed to be present in any part of mine, which is below ground, or in any open cast working in which any mining operations being carried on.
d. The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958: The act prohibits employment of children below the age of 14 in a ship except a training ship, home ship or a ship where other family members work. It also prohibits employment of young persons below the age of 18 as trimmers and stokers except under certain specific conditions.
e. The Apprentices Act, 1961: It states that no person shall be qualified for being engaged as an apprentice to undergo apprenticeship training in any designated trade unless he is 14 years of age and satisfied such standards of education and physical fitness as may be prescribed.
Factors leading to child labour:
The question arises in every mind concerned with child labour that what leads to child labour. The answers can be obtained from the following points:
a.) Poor family and less income leads to child labour. The child is forced to work and earn at a very lower age. It becomes a compulsion for them to work and earn livelihood for themselves and their families. Thus a child for the sake of his family is compelled to work in several places.
b.) Ignorance of parents towards education results in lack of education of child and he have no other options but to work and earn his livings.
c.) Children are found to be better producers of certain products such as knotted carpets and other such kinds of goods. Hence, these children are hired and exploited to work and produce such types of goods. This is known as “NIMBLE FINGER THEORY”. ( www.oecd.org/dataoecd/27/13/2955776.pdf)
d.) Discrimination on grounds including gender, race or religion also plays its part in why some children work at such tender age.
e.) Child trafficking is another cause of child labour. A number of children are bought and sold and are exploited to work as labourers, beggars, domestic workers, etc.
f.) In domestic matters, children can be made to work easily and at the low wage. Moreover, the masters can dominate them easily. Thus, the number of children working in households constitutes the major part of child labour.
However, across the world, millions of children do extremely hazardous work in harmful conditions, putting their health, education, personal and social development, and even their lives at risk. These are some of the circumstances they face:
• Full-time work at a very early age
• Dangerous workplaces
• Excessive working hours
• Subjection to psychological, verbal, physical and sexual abuse
• Obliged to work by circumstances or individuals
• Limited or no pay
• Work and life on the streets in bad conditions
• Inability to escape from the poverty cycle — no access to education
The problem of child labour must be recognized as a human rights problem, both directly (e.g. slavery) and indirectly (e.g. compulsory labour that results in denial of the right to education). It embraces not only “the rights of the child” per se, but also the broad panoply of entitlements across the whole spectrum of rights through which, at least civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights. The policymakers as also the ordinary citizens must understand that the future of children would not be secured unless their rights are clearly identified, redefined and restored. Seen from this perspective, it becomes a mandatory duty of all governments across the world to take all possible steps to put and end to the problem of child labour once and for all. Today’s children will constitute the backbone of tomorrow’s society. Hence, it is the obligation of every generation to bring up children, who will be citizens of tomorrow, in a proper way.
Student, School of Law, Christ University, Bangalore.
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]