More than 200 million children worldwide are still working as child labourers and a staggering 115 million at least, are subject to its worst forms. As per the National Census 2011, there are close to 10.1 million child labourers in India, in the age group of 5 to 14 years.
About 1.4 million child labourers in India in the age group of 7-14 years can’t write their names, analysis of Census data by MDI- Child Rights and You reveals. This means one in three child labourers in the said age group are illiterate. This is the grim reality of children who work for more than six months in a year. Even for children who support the family economy by working for less than six months in a year, which is very common in a country like India, the situation is equally, if not more, worse. A shocking 2 million of these marginal workers have compromised their education as well. There is a high potential of early school leavers and those not learning at school to remain outside the world of employment. These children when they grow remain at a risk of not having secured jobs and thus remain trapped in the intergenerational cycle of poverty and deprivation. It is imperative to relook at what we as a nation are investing in our children’s education. We are approaching 6th Anniversary of Right to Free and Compulsory Education and it is crucial that state reviews its strategies in order to reverse this trend.
The situation is also reflected in the state figures. While 45% of child labourers in Bihar are illiterate, in Rajasthan and Jharkhand the figure stands at 40%. Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh also have about 38% child labourers as illiterate. With the education indicators for these children plummeting, the reasons why we face this challenge needs to be addressed. India’s legal framework is based on the assumption that children can work and still be educated. The numbers stated earlier blatantly contradict this assumption and are evidence enough that this needs to change, for main as well as marginal child labourers. In 1992 when India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a reservation was made in article 32, wherein the Government of India articulated that it would progressively ban all forms of child labour. Now, after 30 years since the Child Labour Law came into force, India has the opportunity to amend the law in favour of its children.However, the proposed amendment in the Child Labour law leaves a glaring gap in the prohibition of labour for children under the age of 14. The new law also allows children in this age group to work in family occupations after school hours.The Census 2011 data for children in labour, states that 6.5 million children in India in the age group of 5 to 14 years work in agriculture and household industries. This makes a staggering 64.1% of child labourers in this age group. MDI’s on ground experience reveals that a large number of children engaged in these occupations are working with their families, thus exempting them from the proposed ban. Allowing children to work in family enterprises is likely to have far reaching implications affecting not only their education and learning outcomes but also their health and overall development.Child labour in India, somehow, has become a social norm that we accept and tolerate in our society. This exploitative and abusive practice will continue unless society adopts a zero tolerance attitude towards it. Children continue to be exploited and abused because the State and people do not address children’s issues comprehensively and effectively.However, only ‘rescuing’ children, often will not help. What is required is addressing the reasons that force children to work. Children work mainly to help their families because the adults do not have appropriate employment and adequate income. Children also work because there is a demand for cheap labour in the market. When children are forced to work long hours their ability to get adequate nourishment and to attend school is limited, preventing them from gaining education.
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