The government might soon allow child labour, but only for ‘family enterprises’. This is the result of the latest amendment to the Child Labour Prohibition Act, which has fought to give millions of children a future that doesn’t exploit them.
It is a matter of concern.
Children are the gifts of God who fill the world with happiness, joy, and hope. They are the future citizens of a country, therefore, an individual’s childhood determines his or her future and worthy contributions towards the society and world in general. So, when we discuss child labour, we know that it is a matter of serious importance. Any child, within the age group of 5-14 years, out of school is a child labour. Therefore, the definition of child labour encompasses, every non-school going child employed anywhere in any form— whether paid or unpaid is termed as child labour.
Child labour is a global phenomenon and a ‘harsh reality’. Practiced globally, spanning across Europe, Asia, America, and Africa, child labour continues to plague societies, at large. While first world countries in Europe and Americas have successfully tackled the issue, third world countries like India, Bangladesh, and several African countries like Congo, Ghana, and Zambia continue to face serious issues regarding child labour.
Origin of Child Labour
Possible origin of child labour can be traced back to the times of the Industrial Revolution. But a more detailed study of this heinous, shameful practice can reveal that child labour was there much before industrialization in various forms like in child slavery. If we go back a little in time, we will see that there was a custom for youths from the Mediterranean basin to serve as assistants, charioteers and armed bearers to their adult counterparts. Other instances can be traced back to the Greek Mythology and Bible as well. In ancient Greece this practice was considered to be an educational custom and boys were considered to be a proficient fighting force. Hitler Youth was an authorized organization in the Nazi Army. During the battle of Berlin, this youth force was a major part of the German Defences. However, child exploitation reached its height during the late 18th and early 19th century. It was very common to find children working in mills and factories across England and Scotland. Since industrialization children have been seen working in factories, mines, agricultural fields, some working as waiters in food joints while some even run small businesses like shoe polishing or selling flowers and others are seen as being employed as domestic servants. The worst and the most controversial forms of child labour include use of children in the military, child trafficking, organized begging and child prostitution.
In the present times, practices as the ones mentioned above are still prevalent across many societies in the world.
Child Labour in India
As a third world country, India is no exception to the rule. The issue of child labour has been plaguing the country since long and needs to be addressed with implementation of proper policies. And the latest feed by the government is definitely a matter of serious concern.
A Case in Study
Rescued from forced employment, 13-year-old Lakshmi is frail and frightened.
She was abducted four years ago from her village in north-east India.
Until her rescue, she had been working in people’s homes across West Delhi – cooking, cleaning and taking care of children.
“I was not allowed to rest,” she says. “If I did something wrong or it was not what they wanted, they hit me.”
“If I wanted to sit down for a bit because I was so tired, they would scream at me.
“I was never allowed to leave the house, so I didn’t realise that I’m in Delhi. My employers told me that we are in Madras in South India.”
This is just one case. There are millions such cases across the country. Few lucky ones get rescued like Lakshmi and many do not get to see the light of the day. One child goes missing every eight minutes in India and nearly half of them are never found.
Kidnapped children are often forced into the sex trade and some pushed into domestic labour—hidden from public view within the four walls of a home. The government estimates half a million children are in this position. In the words of Kailash Satyarthi, “This is the most ironical part of India’s growth. The middle classes are demanding cheap, docile labour. The cheapest and most vulnerable workforce is children—girls in particular. So the demand for cheap labour is contributing to trafficking of children from remote parts of India to big cities”.
What’s the government doing? Well, if we get to see, the Child Labour Laws in India are totally outdated, so there’s very little that we can do at least legally. It says children below the age of 14 cannot be employed in hazardous occupations. Does that mean in non-hazardous occupations, a two-year-old child can be employed?
And now that child labour can be employed in “only in family enterprises” is there something that we can do? And why child labour is being clubbed with family enterprises? We will delve into it in another post. Till then let’s hope for the best.
Sources: BBC, ILO and Others