A large number of children in India are quite strangers to the joys and innocence of the formative years of their lives. Instead of enjoying their early steps on their life’s journey, they are forced to work under conditions of slavery. Child labor persists due to the inefficiency of law, administrative system and exploitative tendencies on the part of employers.
Children are employed illegally in various industries. But agriculture is the largest sector where children work at early ages to contribute to their family income. Rural areas employ 85 percent of the child labor in India. They are forced to work at young ages due to factors such as poverty, unemployment, a large family size, and lack of proper education.
Backgrounder to child labour: In British India, a large number of children were forced into labour due to the increasing need of cheap labour to produce a large number of goods. The companies preferred recruiting children as they could be employed for less pay, better utilized in factory environment, lacked knowledge of their basic rights, and possessed higher trust levels.
The practice of child labour continued even in the post-Independence India, though the government continued to take legislative measures against child labor. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed in 1948 incorporated the basic human rights and needs of children for proper progression and growth in their younger years. Article 24 of the Constitution bans engagement of children below the age of 14 in factories, mines, and other hazardous employment. Article 21A and Article 45 promise to impart free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act enacted in 1986, prohibited children younger than the age of 14, from being employed as child labour in hazardous occupations. Significantly in 2009, India passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE). More recently, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, passed by Parliament, prohibits “the engagement of children in all occupations and of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes”. Here adolescents refers to those under 18 years; children to those under 14. The Act also imposes a stringent penalty on anyone who employs or permits adolescents to work.
Nevertheless, child labor has now led to alarming proportions. As per an estimate, India contributes to one-third of Asia’s child labor and one-fourth of the world’s child labor. Prevalence of child labor: Child labor in India is now not confined to the agricultural sector. In recent times, children are engaged into activities such as beedi-making, brick kilns, carpet weaving, commercial sexual exploitation, construction, fireworks and matches factories, dhabas, hotels, hybrid cottonseed production, leather, mines, quarries, silk, synthetic gems, etc.
Conclusion: The government should bring down the incidence of child labor through reform and investment in education. Mid-day meals should be re-emphasized; homeless children should be provided housing through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan boarding schools, and laws banning child labor should be more strictly enforced.