Is it not a monumental shame that of 30 million street children worldwide 11 million are Indian children, leading a wretched life, ill clad and hungry, sleeping on the pavements picking rags, begging or allowing themselves to be exploited in different trade or occupations?
Much against their wishes street children are also dragged into the mafia underworld as drug poachers. They are shunned by all parents, society and government.
Huge sums are spent every year in India and at international meets to focus on the plight of the child, but millions of children still continue to live a miserable life. The only care they get is tones of lip sympathy.
One of the worst forms of child exploitation is child labour and India has the largest number of child labourers in the world. One third of those under 16 are forced to work, often in the not dreadful conditions. Many children have to work for long hours and are physically abused.
As many as 73 million children representing 13 percent of the child population in 10-14 years of age group are working in all kinds of jobs in different parts of the world. Even this figure might be a gross underestimate, according to the International Labour Orgnization (ILO).
In sheer magnitude of number, Asia tops the list with 44.6 million children at work followed by Africa with 23.6 million and Latin America with 5.1 million. The ILO report estimates that 14.4 percent of children in the age group of 10-14 years work in India while the figure is put at 11.6 percent in the case of China.
But even these figures might be giving only a part of the picture. Even the planners say that the figure of child labourers might be around 17 million; NGO claim it could be in the vicinity of 20 million.
Thanks to legislation and adoption of various ILO conventions, child labour is almost non-existent in the organized industry, but its most virulent and heinous and exploitative form could be seen in the unorganized sector such as match factories, glass industries, BIDI manufacturing, etc.
We have several laws like the employment of children Act 1933, The Factories Act 1948, Enforcement of Child Labour Prohibition and Regula tion Act 1986, etc. prohibiting the employment of children below certain age.
The constitution of India also decrees against the exploitation of children in the form of child labour. But the evil thrives despite the fact that the child labour is economically unsound, psychologically disastrous and ethically wrong.
Nearly 87 per cent of the child workers are in rural areas working on farm, plantations, fisheries and cottage industries. Though primary education is free and compulsory, a large number of children do not go to school because the Rural India is again caught in vicious circle of poverty.
The rural families have more children. They don’t feel the pinch of feeding more mouths since more children means more labourers to keep the hearth glowing. Child labour is necessary for the family survival but the cause of the problem is that child labour is not desirable in the interest of either the family or society.
Most children working overtime are unable to either attend the school or progress adequately or acquire the type of human capital which allows them to have a fair chance in the labour market. Child labour creates a force which is ill-equipped in terms of skills to compete in today’s globalised economy.
Child labour also perpetuates the poverty in the general population; since the supply of child labour reduces the bargaining power of ail workers, thereby depressing the wage rates of adults.
But the most reprehensible aspect of child labour is the sheer exploitation of children in certain sectors where the children slog for long hours in the most unhygienic and hazardous conditions.
The employers employ children because they are more docile and least troublesome willing to do repetitive and monotonous work, more trust worthy and fewer truants. And above children do not form trade-union.
In 1996 the Ministry of Labour identified as many as 132 districts in States of An Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir and West Bengal where the ninety percent of the two million children working force are in hazardous conditions.
In 1995 the planning commission sanctioned Rs. 850 crore programmes for the rehabilition of these children.
Under the National Child Labour Projects (NLCP) we have established special schools to provide non-formal education, vocational training supplementary nutrition, etc. to children withdrawn from employment.
The number does not constitute even a part of gargantuan problem. Consequently governments have sought the help of the NGOs in the task of rehabilitating child labourers.
In its historic judgment on December 10, 1996 the Supreme Court of India gave certain direction regarding the manner in which children in the hazardous occupations are to be withdrawn from work and rehabilitated as also the manner in which the working conditions are to be regulated and improved upon.
The important directions given in the judgment include payment of compensation amounting to Rs. 20,000 by the offending occupations.
Rehabilitations, welfare fund, giving alternative employment to an adult member of the family in place of the child with drawn from the hazardous occupation, a payment of an amount of Rs. 5000 for each child employed in hazardous employment by the appropriate government and compilation of the survey of working children within a period of six months.
The need of the hour is vocational education right from the primary stage so that the poor students “earn and learn” at the same time.
In India’s prevailing scenario of over population and mounting unemployment and poverty, there is no harm if children take to their family vocations under their parents, guidance or take non hazardous work, otherwise they may be exploited by anti-social elements for begging, boot legging which is still worse.