Child Labour & Child Rights in India: Myth or Reality

Child Labour & Child Rights in India: Myth or Reality

1 in every 10 worker in India is a child; a child who is guaranteed protections under the Indian Law, and guaranteed an education and mid-day meals, till the age of 14.

The sight of a chotu running to fetch you a chai on the train platform or at your local tea stall, isn’t much of a sight in India. In fact one could almost say that the chotu has become so ubiquitous, that him not being there would be a bit confusing for some of the regulars. It has been normalized and has become an internalized personality trait of the larger Indian society, which tacitly continues to support the chotu culture at the tea stall and within the home. 
In fact it’s become so natural that, when engaging with some of our more conscientious friend, both chotu and we, know the routine to pull off. You casually ask chotu how old he is as he cleans your table, and he, with a pail the size of his torso, responds saying he’s 18. His gangly limbs and prepubescent face are a dead giveaway, but now that he’s said he’s 18, there’s not much you can do is there? 

The numbers
According to the UNICEF, there are about 10.1 million children employed in child labour in India today. That amounts to approximately 13% of our workforce, or in other words, 1 in every 10 worker in India is a child; a child who is guaranteed protections under the Indian Law, and guaranteed an education and mid-day meals, till the age of 14.

child labour laws in india

The Laws
India has been trying to combat this blight since before it became a republic, with the passing of the Employment of Children Act, 1938. While primitive, it was evident that even under an extractive colonial regime, it was understood that the use of children in the production process was anathema. Post–independence, the Factories Act, 1948 and the Mines Act, 1952, banned the practice of using children below the age of 14 and 18, in their respective production processes.
This set the tone for the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 which prevents the employment of children below the age of 14 years in life-threatening occupations identified in a list by the law and finally the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of children Act of 2000 made the employment of children a punishable offence.
The JJ Act came into force shortly after India ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), in 1992 and made the offence punishable with imprisonment from three months to one year or with fine no less than INR 10,000–20,000 rupees or with both.
The Right to Education Act, passed in 2009, was supposed to go beyond punishing people for child labour to creating a conducive environment for building the capabilities of all Indian children, so that they could have a complete education and enter the workforce out of choice and not compulsion. However, even after all this, child labour continues to be the norm in a lot of industries. 

Evolving nature of child labour
With the onset of urbanization, while child labour has fallen in the rural regions, it has only increased in the urban, and child labour numbers have climbed from 1.3 million in 2001 to 2 million in 2011. More worryingly, these numbers (as terrible as they are) might not paint the whole picture, as millions of children labourers remain invisible, employed in homes as domestic help, and paid wages that are nowhere near those stipulated by Indian Law
Work here continues, to be gendered with the UNICEF noting that girls are often deployed in household domestic labour while boys are sent out to the fields and into the mines. A study by Oxfam further corroborated these findings, in their study of the sugarcane farmers of Uttar Pradesh, where it was found that labour contractors were selling children as labour to small scale farmers, because they were cheaper to feed and didn’t need to be paid. 
In several cases, child labour has looked like modern day slavery, with children only being fed enough for their subsistence and receiving little to no other compensation for their work. Children spend their lives working for the same household, with work hours only increasing as they grow older, and as a result grow up stunted, and with health problems.

What we can do
All said and done the internalization of the chotu is not very different from the normalization of the child worker in the mines. In both circumstances, older, more privileged adults decide to exert their control over the present and future of a child, signing away their Right to a brighter tomorrow by funding an institution that profits off of their destitution. 
Unfortunately, no amount of legislation passed from the halls of Delhi, is going to kill this culture and the process needs to start at our own homes and tea stalls. Choosing to educate children and cutting off support from organisations and institutions that deploy child labour is an important first step and while one could go on and list out several more, considering our history with the phenomenon, let’s just take it from there. 

How can you do your bit to save children from being eploited?
Oxfam India is working on ground in the 5 poorest states in India (Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar) enroll children to schools and help them achive their fundamental right of educations as promised under the Right to Education act (2009). Donate now to help sacure the future of India's children.

By Vineet J Samuel, Oxfam India research intern
The author is a public policy commentator who writes for a clutch of publications, with a special focus on social policy and development in the South Asian subcontinent.

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