Child labour is an issue which has always been seen as a diabolic evil in the society. It is a vexed issue, since it is seen to destroy the childhood of many innocent souls. A childhood which is meant to play, to study and enjoy the little joys of life is wrecked by the evil of child labour. Child labour is disquieting not just because of its nature, but because of its target i.e. children. They are the future human resource of our country and have to blossom to their full potential by the right inculcation of values, habits and education.
India is the largest breeder of child labour, with about 120 million children toiling in sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, processing, service and repairs, mining and quarrying, construction, trade and commerce, transport and as domestic helps. The United Nations as well as our own Constitution has provisions forbidding child labour. Many industrial countries have instituted trade embargoes on goods produced by child labour. In fact, a major US apparel manufacturer GAP pulled out all ‘Made in India’ garments from its outlets worldwide after reports that its contractors were employing child labourers.
Child labour has deleterious effects on the physical, mental and social functioning of a child. Children as young as 8 years are made to work for long tiring hours in inhuman and ruthless conditions especially in the crackers and carpet industries in Shivakashi and Mirzapur respectively. They are paid deliberately depressed wages and are exposed to barbaric forms of exploitation. Many of them end up being victims of pollution and ill-ventilation and suffer from chronic respiratory diseases and cancers. In the cotton spinning factories, they are used as “scavengers”, moving underneath machinery to pick up loose cotton. If not attentive towards there work, many kids are also subjected to amputation and corporal punishment.
Whilst it is normally deemed a truism that child labour is inherently bad, there are some factors which can’t be ignored. Despite of a plethora of campaigns mounted against child labour, not much difference has been made. This is because in the face of extreme poverty and destitute conditions prevailing in our country, families often have no other alternative but child labour. Impoverished households with no alternative sources of income or with meagre earnings often resort to child labour to meet their emergent needs. Also, in a country like ours, with invisible and inefficient employment schemes, child labour surfaces even more as finding work for children is easier than for elders in the family. Also, children have a high efficiency and gullibility factor which every employer desires.
In developing countries like India, some don’t perceive child labour in the bad light. There’s an imbalance between the population and employment opportunities in our country. As a result, most people are either unemployed or underpaid. In such grim situations, child labour shares the pressure with the only breadwinner of the family.
Also, there’s a section of researchers who believe that working in itself be a learning process, enabling the child to acquire skills of social integration. It is, therefore, argued by some that the real remedy is not to deprive the families of essential resources but to make education relevant and accessible to working children.
Child Labour cannot be treated just as an emotional or ethical issue. It comes with many indispensable burdens of poverty, decent livelihood and existence which the poor have to meet. It is easy to say that children should be provided with a hassle free childhood so that they can grow to their full potential. But for a child born in a poor Indian household, childhood is about surviving. Because in a country like ours, where governments have been incapable of imparting people minimum incomes and basic amenities of life, child labour is inevitable. Until and unless families have a comfortable income to live a dignified life, child labour will continue to be a necessary evil for them. Thus, we can’t put a blanket ban on Child Labour until we exterminate its root cause of poverty.
However, the youth, by virtue of noble campaigns like Teach India and Indian Literacy Mission’s ‘Each one Teach one’, can definitely make a difference in the lives of such children. The youth can help in augmenting child as well as adult illiteracy by voluntary teaching assignments. This will not only help in educating the unprivileged children, but also protect them from exploitation by enlightening them about their rights. Harping over the governments or berating them about what has not been done would only spoil time. Instead, we should focus on what should and can be done to give all these children a better tomorrow. After all, a single drop makes an ocean; a single effort makes a movement.
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