Child Labor is a paradox in itself.While the Child is social term the labor is an economic term and intermixing both have resulted in exploitation.There are 33 million child labourers in India, according to UNICEF
According to UNICEF,
a child is involved in child labour if he or she is between 5 and 11 years, does at least one hour of economic activity, or at least 28 hours of domestic work in a week.
And in case of children aged between 12 and 14, 14 hours of economic activity or at least 42 hours of economic activity and domestic work per week is considered child labour.
At first glance, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, passed last month in Parliament, seems progressive. It prohibits “the engagement of children in all occupations and of adolescents in hazardous occupations and processes” wherein adolescents refers to those under 18 years; children to those under 14.
The Act also imposes a fine on anyone who employs or permits adolescents to work. However, on careful reading, the new Act suffers from many problems.
One, it has slashed the list of hazardous occupationsfor children from 83 to include just mining, explosives, and occupations mentioned in the Factory Act.
This means that work in chemical mixing units, cotton farms, battery recycling units, and brick kilns, among others, have been dropped.
Further, even the the ones listed as hazardous can be removed, according to Section 4 — not by Parliament but by government authorities at their own discretion.
Two, section 3 in Clause 5 allows child labour in “family or family enterprises” or allows the child to be “an artist in an audio-visual entertainment industry”.
Since most of India’s child labour is caste-based work, with poor families trapped in intergenerational debt bondage, this refers to most of the country’s child labourers. The clause is also dangerous as it does not define the hours of work; it simply states that children may work after school hours or during vacations.
India has passed a number of laws on child labour since Independence.
Article 24 of the Constitution prohibits employment of children below the age of 14 in factories, mines, and other hazardous employment.
Article 21A and Article 45 promise to provide free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14.
In 2009, India passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE).
A number of laws have also addressed what to include and omit in the list of hazardous occupations.
In 1986, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act had prohibited the employment of children below the age of 14 in hazardous occupations identified in a list by the law.After much discussion and expansion, the list included 83 occupations.
The National Policy on Child Labour of 1987, implemented in 1988, adopted a gradual approach that combined the strict enforcement of laws on child labour with development programmes to address the root causes of child labour like caste and poverty.
Laws only can ban certain activity however to achieve the child labour free India , it needs all-round approach.
Why children are engaged in labour itself is a more prominent question, which many editorials seems to oversight or ignore and exploring only the legal loopholes would not do justice to such a critical and tender subject
The WHY of child labour can be categorized as following , although no one can put forth an exhaustive list (this being a social issue and have myriad social reasons):-
The majority of the issue is that of parents income and their inability to meet day-to-day needs, thus sending the children to work so as to earn some extra money and run the family.
How a poor runs the family is indeed a pertinent question given the persisting high inflation (especially of basic articles such as that of food) ,comparatively lower wage rate due to competition etc.If one has to solve the problem of wage rate so as to give the parents adequate amount to meet their basic needs, then probably they might send their wards to school instead to work.For this to happen , there is need for reforms in labour law and increment in wages according to law.
Only raising the wage will not help as the information may never reach the needy thus social awareness campaign is required.
Also linking few benefits/perks with child’s attendance in school can be thought of as a part of social justice policy ,however there can be corruption too, so a through plan has to be put in place so as to reap benefits of this kind of policy.
While wage may solve part of the problem, another issue is many of the poor are self-employed and mostly work in agriculture, thus as long as they work in fields and produce in subsistence level, the challenge of child labour will pervade, hence , agricultural reform along with wiping out the fat middle man can go a long way in empowering the farmer, thus empowering their children.
The next issue is social in nature, that is , many suffer from drug abuse, substance abuse, alcoholism etc and as long as this digs a hole in the pocket of the poor addict , the children are pushed to work to run the family.Tackling this problem holistically can solve many issues of child labor.
To put it rather simply, reforming the laws can help but only laws wont be able to weed out such a deep rooted social problem , thus every perspective has to be thought of to empower the parents and children , creating enough deterrence and social awareness.This is a multi-pronged issue that needs multi-pronged solution.Social reality and economic reality which put the child in to labor has to be addressed.Issue of this nature also requires engagements from civil society, NGO and other institutions that can really influence and bring the change we desire.Laws are the not the only solution, they are just part of it.