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Child Labour in India | Social Issue Essay, Article, Paragraph for Class 12, Graduation and Competitive Examination.

Child Labour in India

Scheme of the Essay

Exposition: The recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the subject of child labour has. brought the problem into focus.

Rising Action: The subject came up before the WTO meeting in Singapore. UNICEF focuses 1997 on child labour


(1) Child Labour Act 1986 remains ineffective because of loopholes

(2) The ruling of the Supreme Court has given practical steps to tackle the problem.

(3) The problem is linked with poverty, class and caste exploitation.

(4) UNICEF suggests free compulsory primary education may solve this problem.

(5) CACL suggests that there should be interim residential facilities for the labouring children.

Falling Action: According to UNICEF Report child Labour is found even in affluent countries.

Ending: In India, there seems to be no political will to deal with this problem.

The recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the subject of child labour gives a much-needed shot in the arm to those who have been fighting to eradicate this unacceptable practice. It has also given the Government a practical way to demonstrate to the world community that it is doing something about the problem. This is particularly fortuitous at a time when the Indian Government, among others, is coming under increasing pressure from industrialised nations to deal with such labour practices. The subject came up for heated debate at the recently-concluded ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Singapore. The judgment also coincided with the release of the UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Report, 1997 which focuses this year on child labour. The Supreme Court judgment and the UNICEF report highlight crucial aspects of the debate on how the practice of making children work can be stopped. The judgment, which is path-breaking in many ways, is limited in scope because it confines itself to the implementation of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986. The Act has loopholes that have been the subject of extensive discussion. For instance, even though it does have a schedule of hazardous industries in which no children should be employed, it does not deal with working children in a whole range of other occupations which cannot be specified as hazardous.

Furthermore, ten years after the Act came into force, it still remains largely ineffective as is evident from the court’s ruling. Only seven States so far have actually gazetted the rules that will allow the act to be enforced. Maharashtra, which has the second largest number of working children, has only just formulated the rules but has not gazetted them.

Given this state of affairs, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect that the directions will result in a dramatic change. For example, the court suggests that factory inspectors visit establishments employing children and ensure that the provisions of the act are implemented. Sadly, factory inspectors in India must be some of the most demoralised officials. They are given ever-increasing tasks, from monitoring compliance of environmental laws to those dealing with occupational hazards and child labour. Yet, at a practical level, their word carries little clout. To expect such a cadre of individuals to be in the vanguard of implementing a difficult law is clearly not realistic.

However, the most positive aspect of the ruling is the practical suggestions it makes about dealing with those using children in hazardous industries. The court directed that those who employed children should contribute Rs. 20,000 per child to a corpus which will then help pay for the child’s education. In addition, the employer must either employ an adult member of the child’s family or pay an additional Rs. 5,000 as compensation to the family for the loss of an earning member. Such a corpus, if the amount could ever be collected, would form the foundation of a rehabilitation scheme for children in a number of industries such as carpet-weaving and glass work.

In addition to such schemes, it is clear that the problem will have to be tackled at several levels simultaneously. As the practice of child labour is so inextricably linked with poverty, tradition and caste and class exploitation, there are no easy or short-term solutions. This is where the approach of international organisations such as UNICEF and some of the non-government groups within India makes sense.

UNICEF has long said that free and compulsory primary education is an essential prerequisite in the process of eradicating child labour. Children who are not in school are available for work. UNICEF estimates that the figure of 100 million, which is often quoted as the number of working children in India, actually represents children out of school in the age group six to 14 years. Thus, if you get these children into school and provide their parents with adequate incentives, either monetary or in the form of employment for an adult member of the family, then the child will remain in school. Otherwise, after the initial enrolment, he or she will be sucked back into the compulsions of raising resources for their impoverished families. Apart from education, measures must be taken to reach children employed in areas outside the hazardous industries stipulated in the law. For the children covered by the law represent only 15 per cent of the total number of working children.

Other forms of child labour, such as child prostitution, bonded labour and even children doing domestic work or working in homes, often with the rest of the family, must also be placed high on the list of priorities. Even if ways were found to pull children out of factories and workshops and get them into schoolrooms, at a practical level there would be several problems. The Campaign Against Child Labour, (CACL) a coalition of non-government organisations that has been campaigning on this issue since 1992, suggests that there should be interim residential facilities where children taken out of hazardous industries or other employment can be accommodated. These could also be used to equip them to fit into main-stream education institutions as without such a transition, they would not be able to cope with the system. A programme based on a realistic understanding of the situation of working children would be far more effective than the one that relies only on punitive measures. For the latter, whether instituted nationally, or employed internationally through trade boycotts and social clauses, merely pushes the problem underground. It makes the ostensible offender defensive and leaves no space for constructive dialogue on how the issue should be tackled.

The UNICEF report emphasises the negative aspects of a strategy based on consumer boycotts or social clauses in trade agreements. Such a strategy would in any case affect only those children employed in export-oriented industries. In India, they account for a mere eight per cent of the child labour force. The rest produce goods for the domestic market. Thus, this kind of pressure fails to deal with the root of the problem.

The UNICEF report cites the example of Bangladesh to argue against a strategy of boycotts. In the face of the Harkin Bill, which was tabled in the U.S. Congress in 1992 calling for a ban on import of products made by children under 15, the garment industry in Bangladesh, which used to employ children and which exports primarily to the U.S., hurriedly removed its child workers. A study tracing the dismissed child workers found that many of them were working is more hazardous conditions, were paid less and many of the girls had been drawn into prostitution.

Both the Supreme Court judgment and the UNICEF report bring out the fact that although child labour is linked with poverty in some countries, it is not the only reason for the existence of this unacceptable practice. In the U.K., for instance, 15 to 26 per cent of 11-year-olds and 36 to 66 per cent of 15- year-olds are working.

In the U.S., there was a 250 per cent increase in child labour violations between 1983 and 1990. A survey in 1990 found that Mexican-American children working illegally on farms in the New York State were directly exposed to hazardous pesticides.

Yet, even though children work in better-off economies, the fact remains that almost half the total number of working children are in Asia. The UNICEF report highlights the impact of structural adjustment programmes on labour practices in poor countries and the fact that this has actually given an impetus to the practice of employing young children.

Sadly, despite a growing bank of studies and data and relentless campaigning by anti-child labour groups in the country, the political will to deal with the problem is lacking. The Government mouths the necessary platitudes on the subject, but there is little action on the ground. And so far as the general public are concerned, few people are willing to take a stand within their own establishments or homes on this issue or to work towards galvanising public opinion to declare child labour as unacceptable. Yet no society can or should accept this as a necessary evil.


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