CHILD LABOUR :The crime against children, future

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To successfully rehabilitate child labour withdrawn from employment and to reduce the incidence of child labour progressively, the focus should be on the environment of the child.

By: Dr .Tasaduk Hussain Itoo

Child labour is a barbaric practice. It is barbarous because it is illogical, inhuman and against all ethics. In the past, the practice of child labour existed as proportionate to the social development. But lack of human awareness, did not allow people at large and social system in particular to pay any attention to the deprived people in general and child labour in particular. The phenomenon of child labour in different occupations, establishments particularly in unorganized labour dates back to the history of human civilization. The problem of child labour in under developed and developing countries is quite high and abnormal. In India, the problem of child labour has assumed very alarming position. The incidence of child labour is the direct result of poverty and socio-cultural fabrics. Fundamental Rights and other welfare provisions embodied in the constitution have no meaning to them. Despite the enactment of various laws, expressing deep concerns over this issue by social activists, academicians, the magnitude of the problem has not been set-aside rather went on increasing. The exploitive practice of child labour has come to be recognized as a major socio-economic problem. Child labour jeopardizes children’s potential to become productive adults, robbing them of their health, education and their prospects for future.


Children are among the most neglected, abused and exploited segment of the population, exposed to such worst form of labour as ragepicking. Ragpicking is severe and worst form of child labour. The most unhygienic, dangerous job in scrap collection is ragpicking. The children of poverty stricken Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribes/ Other Backward Classes (SC/ST/OBC castes) or slum dwellers are engaged in such activities. They are collecting waste materials of plastic, tin, iron, bottle from garbage and dirty places of urban area. The glass, metal, iron pm pieces may injure their bare feet. For their bread and butter, they are working such. In ragpicking the children engaged, face various health problems like tetanus and skin diseases. Ragpicking is one of the inferior economic activities in the urban informal sector, largely undertaken by children belonging to weaker sections of the society, for the survival and for supplementing their family income. Ragpicking is the profession mostly dominated by children ageing 6 to 15 who do not have any other skills and thus by way of refuse collection contribute to household income or own survival. These are mainly children of slum dwellers and poor people. Some of them are abandoned or runaway children. The continuous exposure to the garbage and hospital waste has led to various diseases. Many smoke beedi and cigarettes and some are also addicted to drugs and indulge in prostitution, homosexuality, robbery and gambling. All this has affected their lives in several ways and shortened their life spans considerably.


The number of child labour is growing at an alarming rate and problems related to wage, health, safety and development are also becoming more complex. India accounts for the second highest number where child labour in the world is concerned. Africa accounts for the highest number of children employed and exploited. Though, India is signatory of various international conventions and agreements, there is growing number of child labours in India. They work under very hazardous conditions. In Jammu and Kashmir state, the child labour including ragpicking  is on enormous rise,  most prevalent in cities of Jammu and Srinagar.The Jammu region is much encroached with the menace of ragpicking.You could witness ragpickers in streets, along roads and footpaths, in public parks, in localities at various places.


The problem of child labour can be more clearly understood by identifying types of work in which children are employed. Spatially child labour could be seen both in rural and urban areas. In terms of work types they are mostly found in operations where their “unskilled” labour power could be easily tapped and exploited. Work-types also vary in terms of gender participation. There are some works where only girls are employed. Similarly there are some works in which only boys are employed. A variety of works in rural and urban areas are undertaken by the children. The intensity and extent of exploitation also vary according to the types of work, places of employment, domestic area and outside home, requirement of skills, vulnerability of the children in terms of economic conditions, parental security, legal enforcement, alternative employment opportunities. Employed, self-employed, disguised employed, unemployed, bonded, non-bonded, within family and non-family are the various types of child labour. Ragpicking is one of the child labour in self-employed sectors. The number and types of occupations in which children are employed is endless and includes almost every aspect of human work and life. In 1981, the census of India adopted nine categories of work for the child labour : i)Cultivators,ii) Agricultural labour,iii) Livestock, Forestry,iv) Fishing and Plantation,v) Mining and Quarrying,vi) Manufacturing, Processing, Servicing And Repairs,vii) Construction,viii) Trade and Commerce,ix) Transport, Storage and Communication And x) Other Services. Generally children are employed in the agricultural operations. Their activities also include looking after animals, collecting firewood, carrying water, and spreading manure and fertilizer in the farmland. In urban areas, they are engaged in more diversified activities such as loading and unloading of goods, looking after parked vehicles, work in hotels and restaurants, mechanical workshops, picking of rags, shoe-shining etc. Children are also engaged in most hazardous and dangerous activities such as mining, beedi rolling, match making fireworks, glass blowing units, slate and pencil manufacturing etc. Ragpickers, mostly women, who collect garbage on dumping grounds, in residential areas or in street bins, and the itinerant buyers who purchase scrap directly from households, offices and shops. Most of the itinerant buyers are male and they typically require a certain amount of capital to purchase scrap. Most of the ragpickers are not independent but work for middlemen or contractors who purchase segregated rag from them on pre-decided rates. The middlemen sold the rags to recycling or reuse industry.


A large number of studies had been undertaken in different parts of India, on the problem of child labour. Most of them have paid enough attention to find out how many children are working and what proportion of total workers are represented by children. Few of the studies have been devoted to explore why in a country like India, where a large section of the adult population is, unemployed or underemployed, a child has to work and earn. There are several causes for continuation of child labour in India. But, main causes are poor economic condition, traditional authority of father, high fertility rate, and lack of status of the child in the society, low level of adult and child literacy, and lack of social security and cheapness of human labour. And at the same time the lack of vigilance of the society to see that all the laws enacted for betterment of the children and really enforced properly is not less responsible for continuation of child labour in India. The responsible factors have been collected and discussed broadly under the following sub-headings such as poverty, illiteracy, large family size, unemployment, industrialization, population growth, caste structure, school infrastructure, school distance, psychological factors, expenses of education, social structure and other economic factors.


The most valuable of a nation’s resources is its children. The nation that fails to ensure the survival, protection and development of its children is doomed to destruction and extinction. No nation can, therefore, afford to leave this supreme assert the children at the mercy and caprice of individuals. In India the post-independence era has experienced an unequivocal expression of the commitment of Government to the cause of children through constitutional provisions, policies, programmes, legislations, etc. The Constitution of India in Article 39 of the Directive Principles of State Policy that the state shall in particular, direct its policy towards securing the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused, and that of citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocation unsuited to their age or strength, that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner, and in condition of freedom and dignity, and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation, and against moral and material abandonment. As a follow-up of this commitment and being a party to UN Declaration on the Right of the 1959, India adopted the National Policy on children in 1974. The policy reframed the constitutional provisions and states that it shall be the policy of the state to provide adequate services to children, both before and after birth and through the period of growth to ensure their full physical, mental and social development. The State shall progressively increase the scope of such servicer so that within a reasonable time all children in the country enjoy optimum conditions for their balanced growth. As the responsibility of children’s nurture and solicitude is bestowed on the Government, children’s programmes have occupied a prominent place in the national plans for human resource development. Successive Five Year Plans have provided with wherewithal to deal with these issues. In the last decade of this century, dramatic technological developments particularly in the areas of health, nutrition, education and related spheres have opened up new vistas of opportunities to reaffirm our age-old pledges for the cause of children. During 1989-90, India joined the committee of nations in the successive reaffirmations of global commitment to the cause of children. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (20 November 1989), The World Conference on Education for All (March 1990), The Global Consultation on Water and Sanitation (September 1990), The World Summit on Children (September 1990) and The SAARC Summit on Children soon after the World Summit were part of this redeeming process which transcended national barriers.


The child has been subject of special laws and legal provisions. Because of its tender years, weak physique, and inadequately developed mind and understanding, it needs protection against moral and physical harm and exploitation by others. In the formative years of its life, the child needs special care service to realize its full potential for growth and development. There are about 300 central and state legislative enactments concerning children. These have been enacted with an intention to protect and help children and achieve the goal of child labour welfare enshrined in our National Charter. It may be submitted that the labour legislation in India including protective legislation for children has been greatly influenced and is the result of various conventions and recommendations adopted by International Labour Organization. Besides constitutional provisions, there are at present 13 major legislative enactments which provide legal protection to children in various occupations. These are:

  1. i) The Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933
  2. ii) The Employment of Children Act, 1938

iii) The Factories Act, 1948;

  1. iv) The Plantations Labour Act, 1951;
  2. v) The Mines Act, 1952
  3. vi) The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958;

vii) The Apprentices Act, 1961;

viii) The Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961;

  1. ix) The Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966;
  2. x) The Shops and Commercial Establishment Act in various states, 1969.
  3. xi) Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.

xii) Child labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 states right in the beginning that its aim is to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employments and to regulate the conditions of work of children in certain other employments. According to this Act, the employment of Children Act, 1938 is repealed. All rules made in this Act will be in addition to the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948, the Plantations Labour Act, 1951 and Mines Act, 1952.


Article 23: Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour: “Traffic in human beings and other similar forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.”

Article 24: Prohibition of employment of children in factories etc.: “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employment to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.”

Article 39 (e) and (f): Certain principles of policy to be followed by the state: “The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing (e) that the health and strength of workers, men and women and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength,(f) 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.”

Article 45: Provision for free and compulsory education for children: “The State shall endeavour to provide free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.


The National Policy on Children Resolution, adapted in August 1974, emphasizes for development of human resources. Free and compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14, provision of health and nutritional

programmes and services, providing alternative forms of education for children unable to take full advantage of formal school education for whatever reasons and measures for protecting children against neglect, cruelty and exploitation form part of the National Policy for children. Subsequently the Government of India appointed a committee (Gurupadaswamy committee) to go into various aspects of child labour. The Committee had submitted a report in legislation called “The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986”, to prohibit the engagement of children in certain employments and to regulate the conditions of work of children in certain other employments.


To successfully rehabilitate child labour withdrawn from employment and to reduce the incidence of child labour progressively, the focus should be on the environment of the child. By utilizing the on going development programmes of other Ministries and Departments for the benefit of the child and his family, child labour can be discouraged.

  1. By providing better and readily accessible education, through formal or non-formal systems of education.

2.By improving health conditions for child labour. By providing nutrition through schemes like the “Integrated Child Development Services”.

  1. By intensifying the anti-poverty programmes such as Integrated Rural Development Programme, National Rural Employment Programme etc.
  2. Area Specific Projects: To focus on area know to have high concentration of child labour and to adopt a project approach for identification, withdrawal and rehabilitation of working children.

The writer is Medical Doctor /Activist /Educator and can be mailed at  [email protected]

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