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October 5, 2020


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What is child-labour?

Not all jobs done by children should be classified as child labour that is to be targeted for elimination. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not impact on their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive. This comprises activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with abilities and experience and help to prepare them to be productive members of the community during their adult life.

The term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that:

  • is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and dangerous to children; and/or

  • interferes with their education by: depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

What are horrible types of child labour?

Whilst child labour takes many various forms, a priority is to eliminate without delay the worst forms of child labour as defined by Article 3 of ILO Convention No. 182 :

  • all kinds of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;

  • the use, obtaining or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;

  • the use, obtaining or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;

  • work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

What are the Hazardous child labour?

Hazardous child labour or risky work is the work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is accomplished, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

Recommendation for governments on some hazardous work activities which should be prohibited is given by Article 3 of ILO Recommendation No. 190 :

  • work which endangers children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse;

  • labor underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces;

  • labor with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads;

  • labor in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging to their health;

  • labor under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work where the child is unreasonably confined to the premises of the employer.

How many child labourers are there in India?

According to the ILO, there are approximately 12.9 million Indian children engaged in work between the ages of 7 to 17 years old. When children are assigned or doing unpaid work, they are less likely to attend school or follow only intermittingly, trapping them in the cycle of poverty. Millions of Indian girls and boys are going to labor every day in quarries and factories, or selling cigarettes on the street. The majority of these children are between 12 and 17 years old and labor up to 16 hours a day to help their families make ends meet. But child labour in India can start even earlier with an estimated 10.1 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 years-old engaged in labor.

As children get older, their involvement in employment also expands. In India, 20 percent of all children aged 15 to 17 years old are involved in hazardous industries and labors . Measuring the exact scale of child labour in India is difficult as it is often invisible and under-reported.  There are almost 18 million children between the ages of 7 to 17 years old who are deemed “inactive” in India, neither in employment nor in school. These missing girls and boys in India are potentially subject to some of the worst forms of child labour.

Where accomplish child labourers in India work?

According to a study by the ILO, the majority of the world's child labour (around 71 percent) is done in the farming sector, including cotton plantations and rice fields. Around 17 percent are employed as service staff, mainly as household workers or in restaurants, and another 12 percent of child labour is circulate across jobs in the industry sector, including dangerous activities in mines.

Numerous child labourers in India are working for starvation wages in textile factories, assisting with the processing of carpets, or doing back breaking work in brick making factories and quarries. Further child labourers work selling cigarettes, called "Bidis", on the street for the tobacco industry. Children are also used for inexpensive labour in industries such as steel extraction, gem polishing and carpet manufacturing.  A staggering number of girls are victims of child trafficking in India, whether through traditional bondage or through regulated crime. The saleable sexual exploitation of children is among the worst forms of child labour and in India there are around 1.2 million children involved in prostitution.

What are the reasons of child labour in India?

Despite the fresh economic boom in India, more than a third of all Indians still live below the poverty line. The technological innovations and developments in the IT sector have not created jobs in poverty-stricken areas. People from rural regions with little education often see no alternative but to take their children out of school and put them to work to help feed their family. Due to the dire situation of many families, children are sold by their fathers and mothers to child traffickers or parents evacuate their children in the countryside while they look for work in a big city. These children are especially vulnerable and are often abused by traffickers who force the boys and girls to work for very low wages or nothing at all.

Are there not Indian laws against child labour?

The Indian Government enacted a law against child labour in 1993 restricting dangerous work or activities that could harm the mental, spiritual, moral or social development of girls and boys under the age of 18. Nonetheless, child labour continues for a number of reasons, for example people exploit loopholes in the law which allows the employment of children if the work is part of a household business. Thus, having children sell cigarettes on the street could be considered legal if it is part of a household business.  In addition, numerous business leaders, such as mine owners, hold political office and have considerable impact. Companies may not be interested in banishing the inexpensive labour from within their business operations.

In 2006 and again in 2016, the laws against child labour were tightened to guarantee that children under the age of 14 were prohibited from working as domestic help or service staff in restaurants and hotels. Still, child labour in family businesses remains acceptable. In addition, the law does not apply to 15 to 17 year-olds who are only restricted from doing "dangerous" work. These laws also do not prohibit activities such as field work where children are exposed to pesticides or physically exhausting work like carpet weaving.

To ensure the enforcement of these laws, the Indian government is currently developing another law which would increase the punishment for employers who utilize child labourers under the age of 14, changing the penalty from a fine to a prison sentence which would last several years.

What needs to be done to stop child labour in India?

Much more has to be done in the political landscape to avoid exploitative child labour in India: the laws against child labour must be further tightened and more precisely enforced. In addition, it is crucial to combat extreme poverty, a root cause of child labour. Addressing poverty and inequality  is crucial to stop child labour in India.

Entry to education is also vital to break the vicious cycle of poverty and child labour. As children complete higher levels of education, they are more likely to find decent work in adulthood and can use their income to care for themselves and their families without depending on child labour. Although education is compulsory and free in India for children up to the age of 14, widespread poverty forces families to prioritize putting  food on the table over sending their children to school.  As a result, many children attend school irregular or not at all because they have to work instead.