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By: Syed Mustafa Ahmad

Among all the stages of life, childhood is considered the golden period of life but this doesn’t hold for some children,  who struggle to make their ends meet during their childhood years. At a tender age, which is supposed to be an age of playing and going to school, they are compelled to work in factories, industries, offices, etc. Child labour means the employment of children in any kind of work that hampers their physical and mental development, deprives them of their basic educational and recreational requirements. It is a blot on our society and speaks volumes about the inability of our society to provide a congenial environment for the growth and development of children.     

 Earlier, the children used to help their parents in agricultural practices such as sowing, harvesting, reaping, taking care of cattle, etc. But industrialization and urbanization have in a way encouraged child labour. Children are employed in hazardous work such as bidi rolling, cracker industry, pencil, matchbox and bangle making industries. In the bidi industry, children are expected to perform all the chores of rolling, binding and closing the ends of bidis using their nimble fingers. The cracker industry poses threat to the lives of the children due to their direct exposure to the explosive material. The bangle and pencil making industries make the child susceptible to different respiratory problems and lung cancer, in the worst cases. Besides, children are employed as labourers in the garment, leather, jewellery and Sericulture industry.     

Several other factors could be attributed to the rise of this menace. In poor families, children are considered to be an extra earning hand. These families have a conviction that every child is an earner so, more the number of children. The children are expected to shoulder their parents’ responsibilities. Parental illiteracy is also one of the contributors to this problem. The uneducated parents consider education as an investment in comparison to the returns which they get in the form of earnings of their children. The children labourers are subjected to unhygienic conditions, late working hours and different atrocities which have a direct effect on their cognitive development. The young and immature minds of the children find it difficult to cope with such situations leading to different emotional and physical problems. Employers also prefer child labourers in comparison to adults. This is because they can extract more work and still afford to pay the children a lesser amount. Bonded child labour is one of the most forms of child labour. In this, the children are made to work to pay off a loan or debt of the family. It can be considered as a form of slavery where the children assist their parents as they inherit the debt from them.

Bonded labourers are most commonly employed in the agricultural sector. Bonded labour has resulted in the trafficking of children from rural to urban areas to work as domestic help or in small production houses.      What Is The Role Of The Government And The Individuals?The Government of India in particular has an important role to play in the fight against child labour. As poverty is one of the major causes of child labour in India, the Government needs to assure that it provides basic amenities to all its citizens and there is an equal distribution of wealth. It needs to generate sufficient jobs to assure employability to the poor. The Indian Government has eroded many laws to protect child rights, namely the Child and Adolescent Labour ( Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, the Factories Act, 1948, the Mines Act, 1952, the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act and the Juvenile Justice(  Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. Most of these prohibit the employment of children below the age of 14 years in factories, hazardous occupations or in bondage. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 mandates free and Compulsory education to all children between the age groups of 6 to 14 years. Apart from this, it also reserves 25 percent seats in every private school for Economically Weaker Sections of the society.     

The National Policy on Child Labour, 1987 looks into the rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations. Article 39 of the Indian Constitution declares the duty of the state to provide the children with the facilities to develop in a healthy and congenial environment and conditions of freedom and dignity. In May 2015, the Government approved a proposal allowing children below 14 years of age to work in family enterprises or entertainment industry with specific conditions. At the same time, NGOs can provide vocational training to people to get them good jobs. The Government, in collaboration with NGOs, should reach out to the poor people to make them understand the importance of education. The parents as well as the children should be made aware of the Government’s initiative to provide free education to all the children between the age of 6 to 14 years. The parents must be encouraged to send their children to the schools instead of workplaces. To prohibit the child labour in India, Noble Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi took an initiative. He is the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, an organization dedicated towards the eradication of child labour and rehabilitation of the rescued former child workers. Educated citizens can contribute significantly to doing away with child labour. They can play an important role in spreading the word about the harmful effects of child labour on the overall development of a child. Affluent and high-income group families can pool in funds to support the education of poor children. In fact, schools and colleges can come up with innovative teaching programmes for poor children. The principle of ‘ Each one, teach one’ can be followed.ConclusionThere should be a total ban on the employment of small children in any activity other than going to school and getting educated. The Government needs to ensure that it has foolproof laws and they are properly executed as well as implemented. Strict measures need to be taken against those who encourage child labour in any form. Children are the future of a country and it is the childhood which has a profound impact on the future of a child. So, it becomes the collective responsibility of the citizens, society and the Government to provide them an environment which helps them to bring out the best of their capabilities, thus participate in the nation-building process. The need of the hour is to expand the machinery for enforcing the various laws on Child labour.

If child labour is to be eradicated from India, the Government and those responsible for the enforcement, need to do their jobs sincerely. Success can be achieved through social engineering on a major scale combined with broad-based economic growth. Let us pledge to save our children from the scourge of child labour and offer them a sustainable world. They need it desperately.