“The child is a soul with a being, a nature and capacities of its own, who must be helped to find them, to grow into their maturity, into a fullness of physical and vital energy and the utmost breadth, depth and height of its emotional, intellectual and spiritual being; otherwise there cannot be a healthy growth of the nation.”
P N Bhagawati, Former CJI, INDIA.
Child labour is the oldest problems in our society and still an ongoing issue. During the time, child labour evolved from working in agriculture or small handicraft workshops to being forced into work in factories in the urban setting as a result of the industrial revolution. Children were very profitable assets since their pay was very low, were less likely to strike, and were easy to be manipulated. Socio-economic difference and lack of access to education are among others contributing to child labour. Religious and cultural beliefs can be misguiding and concealing in outline the limits of child labour. Child labour prevents corporal, rational and psychic development of children.
International Labour Organisation
India is one of the Founding Members of International Labour Organisation (ILO) which provides universal standards and guidelines for labour practices around the world and notwithstanding, ratified 43 Conventions of ILO, India has not been able to make ‘Child Labour’ free country’. Nearly one-third of the world population consists of children. Children are an important component of any social fabric and, therefore, they need to be cared and protected. India accounts for the second-highest child labourers, just behind Africa which tops the list. Woefully, Child Labour is a Human Right issue for the whole world. According to the statistics given by the Indian Government, there are 20 million Child Labours in the country – other agencies claim that it is 50 million. The number of working children in the Asia Pacific is by far the largest in the world and represents 18.8 per cent of the 650 million 5-14 year-olds in the region. Furthermore, progress in eliminating child labour is still modest compared to progress in Latin America and the Caribbean. 72.1 million African children are estimated to be in child labour and 31.5 million in hazardous work.
Hazardous child labour is defined by Article 3 (d) of ILO Convention :
(d) work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children. In the 1900s, in England, more than a quarter of poor families lost their children to diseases and death, endangering their extra financial support. Boys worked in glass factories in high heat in three shifts because the furnaces were kept fired all the time to increase productivity, while girls were forced into prostitution. THE MAIN CAUSE OF CHILD LABOUR IS LACK OF SCHOOL AND POVERTY: Per International Labor Organization (ILO, 2002), in the world, there are 211 million children labourers, 73 million under 10 years of age, 126 million children work in the worst forms of child labour, and more than 8 million are kept as slaves for domestic work, in trafficking, armed conflict, the sex industry, and pornography. More than 20,000 children die yearly due to work-related accidents. Nearly, one-third of the world’s children work in Africa. As per Census 2011, the total child population in India in the age group (5-14) years is 259.6 million. Of these, 10.1 million (3.9% of total child population) are working, either as ‘main worker’ or as ‘marginal worker’. In addition, more than 42.7 million children in India are out of school. However, the good news is that the incidence of child labour has decreased in India by 2.6 million between 2001 and 2011. However, the decline was more visible in rural areas, while the number of child workers has increased in urban areas, indicating the growing demand for child workers in low status and unskilled jobs. Child labour has different outcomes in both rural and urban India. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was the first international body that signed in 1989 the Convention on the Rights of the Children. Child labour has many facets from the ethical point of view. Freedom, beneficence, justice, moral policy, seclusion, and correctness are endangered during child labour. pragmatic would support the idea of child labour as long as they are the sole providers for the family and without their income, the family would not survive and as long as the labour is voluntarily provided. The ends justify the means. Forced child labour is unethical because it is against the autonomy of the children. To give consent, a child needs to understand the situation, the consequences, and voluntarily agree to work. Children of young age, who have a less than fully competent capacity, can assent to action by getting involved in the decision-making process. The maleficence of this act has long-term physical, emotional, behavioural, and societal consequences. India has made progress in reducing child labour. However, more than 4 million children in India between 5 and 14 years old work more than 6 hours a day, while about 2 million children aged 5–14 work 3–6 months in a year.
Various laws have been enacted to eradicate Child Labour but all in vain. Per ILO, poverty is a major single cause behind child labour. Lack of affordable schools and affordable education is another major factor to force children to work. Certain cultural beliefs rationalize this practice and encourage child labour as character building and skill development for children. Some cultural traditions encourage child labour as footsteps to their parents’ jobs. Socio-economic disparities, poor governance, and poor implementation of international agreements are among the major causes of child labour. Now, if we want Cheap labour today, we might get uneducated inefficient workforce tomorrow. This public health issue cannot be eliminated by only the enforcement of child labour laws and regulations. Any comprehensive policies should engulf a holistic approach on the education of children and their families, investment in early childhood development programs, establishing public education task forces in rural areas, implementing policies with a focus on increasing adult wages, and discouraging consumers to buy products made by forced child labour. As such, the ethical practice requires protection of all rights of children and protective policies and procedures which support the provisions of ILO’s standards. Government has to put more emphasis on quality education and frame policies in this regard. It, however, seems that budget on education has not been as it should be. Children are the future of any nation, buildings are built on big lands, work is done by tiny hands. Now is the time that we all come together and eliminate the evil of Child Labour.