Child labour can be defined as work performed by children (below 14 years of age in India) that either endangers their health or safety, interferes with or prevents education or keeps them away from play and other activity important to their development.
Children are the future of a nation. They are the one who have to carry on their shoulders the responsibilities of tomorrow. For the bright future of the nation, proper care, education and safe environment for the overall development of a child is a must. India is a over-populated country. Over-population has given birth to problems like poverty, illiteracy etc. Majority of Indian masses are illiterate and a large ratio of people live below poverty line i.e. they are unable to meet their daily basic needs (food, clothing and shelter). The poor families have number of children but with no means to sustain them. Hence, children are the main sufferers.
The poverty ridden society has led to many social evils and problems against children. One of such evils is child labour. Due to lack of means, the poor class children are deprived of education. From the very childhood, they are either put to work or made to beg. In both the conditions, their health and innocence is exploited. The age at which the children of affluent families go to school, the children of the poor families are found in the household, factories and on roads trying to make an earning for their living and sometimes even for the living of their family members. At both international and national levels, the laws were enacted so as to improve the rights of children and to protect them from child labour.
Recently, the government of India has expanded the list of occupation prohibited under the Child Labour (Prohibitions and Regulations) Act 1986, which came into force on October 10, 2006. The Indian judicial system has independently and effectively interwove on issue of child labour by giving landmark judgment. But despite of all above stated efforts on the part of legislature, executive and judiciary, the rate of child labour is increasing day by day, which raises a question, “Where are we lacking”?
Causes of child labour:
- Poverty and low economic development – If family is poor and large, they want their children to supplement the income of the family.
- Illiteracy – Illiterate people do not understand the importance of education in one’s life so instead of sending their children to school, they force them to earn to which they give more importance.
- Caste and class structure – People belonging to some caste and class (particularly tribes) prefer engaging their children in their family work instead of sending them out for studying as they believe that one day they have to handle their family work only, so what is the use of learning different things.
Consequences of child labour:
Hard long hours of labour block the children’s world of imagination and kills their creativity by thrusting them into a mechanized way of life. It chokes their mental and physical growth. The result is disastrous. Soon, they start suffering from asthma, tuberculosis, rupture of eardrums, skin diseases. Their disturbed childhood also drives to crime. Many of them fall victim to sexual abuse and many are thrust into prostitution. They are being punished not for any fault of theirs but for the fault of their elders.
Statutory provisions for curbing the problem of child labour:
Conventions in India ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the General Assembly.
Article 32 of the Convention provides that right against exploitation of child labour. It provides that the child should be protected from working at a hazardous place or performing any work which interferes with his education and to stipulate a minimum age to employment and to make appropriate regulations of the hours and conditions of employment.
Article 33 provides protection against drug abuse.
Article 34 provides protection to children against social exploitation.
Article 35 provides against abduction or sale.
Article 36 provides protection to children against any form of exploitation prejudicial to any aspect of the child welfare.
International year of the child:
The year 1979 was marked as the international year of the child. In this year, various activities were undertaken at regional, national and international level for the improvement of life of the children.
Article 24 provides that no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous work.
Article 39 (e) provides that state, in particular, shall direct its policy towards securing that the health and strength of workers, men and women and the tender age of the children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter vocation unsuited to their age or strengths.
Article 39 (f) provides that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.
To protect the rights of the child, the legislature has enacted some more statutes which prohibits the employment of child below a certain age which are as follows:
- The Indian Factories Act and Mines Act, 1952.
- The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958.
- The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1951.
- The Plantation Labour Act, 1951.
- The Bidi and Cigar Workers (Condition of employment) Act, 1966.
- The Apprentices Act, 1961.The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1951.
- The Children Labour (Prohibition And Regulations) Act, 1986.
The Govt. (Legislature) of India has added employment of children as domestic help or servant at dhabas, restaurants, hotels, tea-shops, resorts or in other recreation centers to the list of occupation prohibited under Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986. It came into force on October 10, 2006.
Endeavour on the part of Judiciary for curbing child labour: Judicial Efforts
Judiciary laid down landmark judgments independently in absence of any statutory provision as well as in implementation of statutory provisions.
People’s Union for Democratic Rights vs. Union of India – The Supreme Court emphasized that Article 24 of the Constitution embodies a fundamental right which is plainly and indubitably enforceable against every one”, therefore no child below the age of 14 years can be employed in the construction work even though the construction industry is not mentioned in the schedule to the Employment Children Act, 1938.
M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India – It was held by the Supreme Court that children below the age of 14 years cannot be employed in any hazardous industries, mines or other works and there should be a child labour rehabilitation welfare fund in which the offending employer should deposit Rs. 20,000. The court made it clear that the liability of the employer would not cease even if he would derive to disengage the child presently employed and ask the government to ensure that adult member of the child’s family get a job in a factory or anywhere in place of the child. In this, where the employment would not possible provide, the appropriate government would, as its contribution deposit Rs. 5,000 in the fund for each child employed in a factory or mine or any other hazardous job. The court made it clear that in case of getting employment for an adult, withdraw the child from the job. In those cases, where no alternative employment is available to the adult member of child’s family, the parent would be paid income from of Rs. 25,000. The employment given or payment made would cease if the child is not sent for education by parents.
Bandhu Mukti Morcha vs. Union of India – It was held by Supreme Court that the state should try to provide facilities and opportunities as provided under article 38 (e) and (f) of the constitution and to prevent exploitation of their childhood. Their employment forced or voluntary is occasional due to economic necessity. The poor and the deprived section of the society is detrimental to democracy and social stability, unity and integrity of the nation.
Despite the rectification of international convention, availability of constitution provisions, enactments of statutes by parliament and landmark judicial decisions, social evil of child labour could not be curbed because of loopholes in the law processes, laxity in implementation of law and lack of supportive public opinion. Recent amendments in the Children Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 has filled the loophole of the law to a greater extent and now this Act has the potential of curbing the problem of child labour if interwoven with effective implementation mechanism and supportive public opinion. Effective implementation mechanism can be obtained by encouraging the feeling of commitment among implementers towards their work and supportive public opinion can be obtained by spreading awareness through education, media and other means regarding ill-effects of child labour and importance of education in one’s life. It is an undisputed fact that the child of today will be the future of our country. So, the investment made on children will be an asset for the future of our country. Children should not be exploited by engaging them in employment in tender age but they should be given all necessary amenities and support so that they become responsible citizens of the nation and make the world a happier place to live in.