Little Hands at work

India has the largest number of working children in the world. Whether they are the little hands that make crackers; or the sunken faces that ask us for money at traffic signals or the girls that are forced to sell their bodies; these children have lost their past, are leading a miserable present and their future has been stolen away from them.Child Labour is the employment of children below the age of 14 years. Social scientists estimate that the number of India’s working children is somewhere between 60 to 150 million.

Child Labour is a widespread disease affecting the Indian Society. Children can be seen working in the homes of educated people, in the factories of industrialists and on the streets of an advanced India. Their major employment is agriculture, followed by street jobs such as newspaper vendors and toy sellers. Some are forced to work as beggars, prostitutes and criminals.

The main reason why these children work is their economic need. Children are seen by their parents as contributors to the household income and are sometimes compelled by them to work. Caste is yet another factor. A child born in a specific caste is doomed to work like his family.

Some people argue that such form of work provides economic backing to these poverty ridden families, and hence leads to improvement in their standard of living. It must be understood here that these children should not work and are not in a position to work. It is a time for them to study and learn, and not to work in such conditions.

A lot has been done to protect the interests of these children, if not in action, at least on paper. In 1992, India ratified the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Children.

The Indian constitution also provides for special rights and protection for children under Articles 21A, 24, 39. The constitution ensures right to free and compulsory education up to the age of 14, and directs the State to look at the fact that children of a tender age are not forced to work due to economic necessity.

Some legal provisions such as the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986, have been enacted by the Government to alleviate this problem. In 1987, the Government of India adopted a National Policy on Child Labour.

However, these grand plans have miserably failed. The main reason for their failure is the blatant apathy and negligence shown by the Indian government. Moreover, the affected populace is largely legally illiterate and this sets as an obstruction in the legal process. Needless to say, there is widespread corruption in the enforcement of these laws. Lack of accountability and coordination among government authorities has led to delayed identification and rehabilitation.

So what must we do?

In a highly consumer centric economy like ours, it is our right and duty to ensure that the goods we purchase are not a cause of such social evils. This will prompt producers and retailers to stop, or at the least reduce the supply of such goods. A real example is Nike. We must ensure that we do not employ children in our homes or the homes of our relatives and kin.

Quality control organizations can set up standards and provisions that are necessary for producers to follow, and must include non-employment of children below 14.

It must be reiterated that this will not lead to further economic degradation of the economically challenged families. Once cheap child labour is unavailable, the employers will have to turn to adult labourers and pay higher. (Simple law of economics, as the demand rises and the supply is hort, the price of the service increases.) Thus, the economic condition will not change.

Impetus is not needed from the government and the leaders of the nation, but from the common pedestrian like you and me. After all, be the change you want to see. We can end child servitude and we will.

Rohan Chawla

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