By: Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi
In our daily life, while visiting public places, taking tea in restaurants we see innocent children offering services, but we hardly realize the gravity of the matter that has pushed them in the work. At the tender and young age when their contemporaries who have affluent parents play with their mates, go school and spend their life carefree, they are compelled to shoulder the burden of family and to pose themselves to numerous magnificent hazards; mental, physical, moral and so on.
It is tragedy that data on child labour are scarcely available. It is difficult to cite a current figure for the number of children engaged in work. Combining various official sources, it is estimated that there were some 211 million children aged 5 to 14 at work in economic activity in 2000 around the world. This accounts for a little less than one fifth of all children in this age group. About 73 million working children are less than 10 years old. The total economically active child population 5-17 years old was estimated at 352 million children by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2000.
The large majority of working children, close to 94 percent, live in developing countries, mostly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The greatest numbers were found in Asia - 44.6 million (13 per cent) followed by Africa - 23.6 million (by far the highest rate at 26.3 per cent) and Latin America - 5.1 million (9.8 per cent). Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of working children. Some estimates show that almost one child in three below the age of 15 is economically active in the region. In the 18 countries in this region with data on child labour, 38 percent of all children between 7 and 14 years of age are engaged in work that can be considered harmful to their development. The child work ratios in other major world regions are all below 20 per cent.
This overall estimates working children are exclusive of children who are engaged in regular non-economic activities, including those who provide services of domestic nature on a full-time basis in their own parents' or guardians' households. While it is estimated that 171 million children ages 5-17 were estimated to work in hazardous situations or conditions in 2000. In addition to the number of children in hazardous work, it is estimated that there were about 8.4 million children involved in other worst forms of child labour; which includes trafficking, forced and bonded labour, armed conflict, prostitution and pornography and illicit activities.
Available information points to the existence of traditional forms of child slavery in South Asia and sub-Saharan East Africa. A large number of ‘child slaves’ are to be found in agriculture, domestic help, the sex industry and other industries. They may number in tens of millions, according to ILO. Child slavery predominates mainly where there are social systems based on the exploitation of poverty, such as debt bondage.
The overall condition of children is not good at all in India. Poor children in India begin working at a very young age. Many children have to work to help their families and some families expect their children to continue the family business at a young age. It is difficult to cite an exact figure because of a universal difficulty in obtaining accurate data. However, it is perceived that India is the largest example of a nation affected by the problem of child labour. There is an estimation of between 60 and 115 million working children in India, the highest in the world, while there are over 15 million in bonded labour. There are 5,00,000 children in prostitution and at least 18 million children living on the streets in India. According to a World Bank report, the prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world, and is nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Child labour is one of the most serious socioeconomic phenomena and a significant problem of modern India. Millions of children are put to work in ways that drain childhood of all joy and crush the right to normal physical and mental development. A large majority of working youngsters toil as unpaid family workers and most of those working as paid employees are paid much less than the prevailing rates in their localities. They often work long hours every day of the week doing hard physical labour. Being tender physically, children are susceptible to various work-related injuries and illnesses more than adults doing the same kind of work. They face significant threats to their health and safety because they are less aware, even completely unaware, of the potential risks involved in their specific occupations or at the workplace.
WHAT CAUSES THE WORSE CONDITIONS OF CHILDREN?
The major determinant of child and other related problems is poverty. Child labour in India is essentially a socioeconomic phenomenon arising out of poverty and lack of development. In many cases families depend on a child's wages for their survival. Families need money to survive, and children are a source of additional income for poor families. Children’s work is considered crucial to maintain the economic level of households. In India, the percentage of population living in poverty is very high; it has the largest poor population in the world. There are about 350-400 million people leading their life on less than 1$ a day.
In addition to poverty, illiteracy also contributes greatly to the worsening condition of children. The poor and illiterate parents are left with no option but to push their children to work. India’s state of education lacks effectiveness in yielding basic literacy in the population. Nearly, 40% of the Indian population is illiterate. The parents are ignorant and they are not aware of the bad consequences of their children being left illiterate. If some parents manage to send their children to school, they could not continue it due to monetary and other factors. Therefore, dropout rate is high in Indian schools than other developing nations. There are indications that few students reach fifth or sixth grade and dropout rates support this conclusion. Dropout rates measured by the Department of Education show that 35% of males and 39% of females dropout. The pressing need for the child’s earnings as well as low perceived advantages of school cause parents to withdraw children from school and put them in work. So, as a result poverty and the insufficiency of the school system play significant roles in worsening the condition of children.
HOW TO ELIMINATE IT?
From independence, India has committed itself to be against child labour. Article 24 of the Indian constitution clearly states that "No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment". Likewise, the Article 39 (e) directs State policy "that the health and strength of workers . . . and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength".
It has been the policy of the government to ban employment of children below the age of fourteen and to recognize the right of the children to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the their education, or to be harmful to the their health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
Poverty: With all these policies and commitment, the tragedy of child labour and working children still remains magnificent. Since, it is clear that this goal cannot be achieved only by enforcement of law and enacting of policies. Given the complex socio-economic dimensions of the problem, improvement in the living and working conditions of parents and in their economic conditions is crucial to the elimination of child labour.
It is of no use to withdraw children from work and put them in schools without offering their families any alternative. Before attacking child labour, it should be ensured that the needs of the poor families are fulfilled. If poverty is addressed, the need for child labour will automatically be reduced to nothing. Child labour will remain until the root cause of it i.e. poverty is removed. We have to put an end to the cycle of poverty that is reborn after every generation to address the underlying causes.
Education: Education is also an indispensable component to eliminate child labour. It is widely acknowledged that the provision of compulsory primary education is the main method of controlling child labour. The concept of compulsory education, where all school aged children are required to attend school, combats the force of poverty that pulls children out of school. Policies relating to compulsory education not only force children to attend school, but also contribute appropriate funds to the primary education system, instead of higher education. Compulsory education has worked to reduce child labour. Article 45 of the Constitution of India states: "The State shall endeavour to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years". But, it is quite surprising and annoying that there have passed five decades on independence and we have not still achieved the goal of free and compulsory education. So, the pressing need of our time is to provide free and compulsory education to each and every citizen of the country.
On the contrary, education, instead of being free, is very costly and expensive. The education is so commercialised that you can never expect the poor and ignorant parents to afford schooling. There may be some schools that offer basic education at considerable cost, but here the tragedy is that they are so below standard that instead of giving any improvement in the overall situation contribute in aggravating the poor condition of children. Schooling must be affordable and relevant to the child's circumstances, and should provide practical skills and knowledge.
Social Awareness: Social awareness is an important factor that can tackle the menace of child labour. First of all, the poor and ignorant parents should be informed of the importance of educating their children. The common people and social organizations also should strive to help the parents and create an environment that reduces the chances of a child being engaged in work. It should be considered that not only the forms of child labour that are banned by law are bad, but also every economic and other activity of a child that deprives him of education or that affects their mental and physical growth should be abolished. If the future of such a huge portion of our next generation is shrouded with darkness of poverty, ignorance and misery then how can we claim to be the largest democracy of the world; since these things are inconsistent with democracy and social justice.
Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org