India is a democratic country and a welfare State and yet its children have no security and safety. The sons and daughters of the millions of Indians living under the poverty line in the age group of 5 and 14 are forced to spend a very miserable existence. There is no social security for them as their parents cannot afford to send them to schools. They are subject to various types of exploitations and abuses.
There are estimated to be over 11 million child-workers. They are forced to labour hard and for long hours in mills, factories, fields, farms and houses as domestic servants. They have to work in very trying, unhealthy and sometimes dangerous conditions. They belong to the age group of 5 and 14 years and hardly know what is childhood and boyhood and its fun and enjoyments. Of the estimated eleven million child-labour, six million are males and five million females.
Of this total strength of child-workers, 80 per cent has been categorised as main workers and the rest as marginal workers. The percentage of the child workers comes to 5.4 per cent of the total population in the country of this age group. It means that out of 18 children in this age group one is a worker by necessity.
These children, who have only one childhood, are obliged to work as labourers in, match, knit-wear, silk, carpet, sports- goods, construction, fireworks, bangles, glass and such other labour intensive industries. They are also engaged as bidi-rollers, brick-kiln workers, shop-servants and domestic helps against their wishes and abilities.
The figure of 11 million child-workers is far too low than the actual number of child labourers because the Child Labour Act covers only the 15 per cent of the employed children and the rest comprising 85 per cent working in unorganised sector have been ignored. UNICEF puts the number of working children between 70 and 110 million. There is utter lack of social awareness and accountability in the matter.
According to the 1991 Census, the percentage of child-population has declined by over 2 per cent. It has come down to 37.2 per cent from 39.5 per cent in 1981 in the age group of 0-14 years. It reflects a fall in fertility rate during the last decade. By the turn of the century the infant mortality will be around 55, the expectation of life at birth will be 63 years for males and 66 years for females. However, in spite of the promulgation of Child Labour Act about a decade back, it is not being enforced effectively and strictly.
No cases have been registered so far against any factory owner, millowner or a person employing children. The children of the weaker sections of the society are being exploited openly and blatantly. There is no effective forum to voice their grievances and protect them against this wide spread exploitation.
The international code of conduct on minimum labour standards is not being implemented in our country. Actually every person under 18 years of age unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier, is a child. According to the Convention of the Rights of the Child of 1990, every child has the right to an adequate standard of living and social security. He or she has the right to education. They have the right of protection against any kind of exploitation. They are entitled to protection from involvement in the illicit production, trafficking and use of narcotic drugs, protection from sexual exploitation and abuse. But these rights are on papers and the reality is very shocking.
They have no opportunity of going to school and develop their skills and abilities. Half the total population of children in India is estimated to be out of schools. Without provision of compulsory, free and universal elementary education the evil of child labour in India cannot be checked and eradicated. The emancipatory value of education, specially primary education, is very significant. India accounts for about 22 per cent of out of school children.
Our leaders and fathers of the Constitution in 1950 made a pledge to provide free, compulsory and universal education for children in the age group 6-14 within ten years. But this solemn pledge remains unfulfilled so far. As per an estimate, the country would need 40,000 crore to achieve total literacy. Where is the money? Where is the political will and commitment to achieve this noble goal?
Social groups, voluntary organisations, reform societies and parents should create public. awareness against child labour and make the masses demand free, universal, primary education. Right to education on the elementary level should be one of the fundamental rights. The percentage of allocation on primary education is very low in India. The aim of providing education to all the children is not an easy one. It requires most sincere and concerted efforts on the part of all concerned. The country cannot afford to neglect it any longer.
The problem of child labour is directly linked with the problem of literacy and poverty alleviation. Unless there is significant improvement in the quality of life and living standards, the eradication of child labour will remain a pipe dream. The poor parents cannot afford to let their children not to work. They are obliged by their poverty and deprivation to send them to work in factories and mills against their wishes. This is a great social evil and should be fought against tooth and nail. The problem is really very serious and not as simple as sometimes it appears to be. Removal of children from work means loss of income which may drive children of weak sections of the society into more desperate situation and dangerous and degrading jobs.
Children should be respected, their rights restored and their voices heard. They should be rescued from all types of labour and exploitation. Boycott of goods produced with child-labour can he one of the effective weapons of fight against child-labour. Corporate houses, companies and business firms should come forward and adopt schools and see that children are given education in a healthy and conducive environment. They should be helped economically. There can be more liberal scholarships, mid-day meals, free distribution of books, stationery and other educational material. To stop dropouts, there can be financial and other incentives to children as well as to parents.