By Alok Kumar Padhi
It runs, today’s child is tomorrow’s future. After attaining the age of 18 years, a child becomes an adult and supports for the development of a country. But when the present of a child is not secure then how he will contribute to build a nation? According to ILO, worldwide 218 million children between 5 and 17 years are in employment. Among them, 152 million are victims of child labour, almost half of them, 73 million work in hazardous activities. 2011 Census estimates 10.13 million child labourers between the age of 5 to 14 years in India.
Child labour is a global issue remained since a long time. It is a violation of children’s rights which harms them mentally and physically, making them more vulnerable to exploitation. India has ratified the ILO Convention No 138 which mandates setting a minimum age below which no children shall be permitted to work and ILO convention no 182 which aims at prohibiting and phasing out from worst forms of child labour. Article 32 of UNCRC recognizes the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and harmful works and practices, which India has ratified in 1992. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by India in 2015, commits to end child labour, specifically target 8.7 of the SGDs calls to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking, elimination of worst forms of child labour and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
At the national level Article 23 of Indian Constitution prohibits trafficking and forced labour whereas Article 24 protects children below the age of 14 against being employed in any hazardous activities. The National Policy on Child Labour was formulated in 1987 to focus on an action plan for tackling the child labour, convergence and upliftment of families of the child labour and project based Action Plan (NCLP). The Child Labour Prohibition Act was enacted in 1986 and further amended in 2016 called as The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 has been implemented across the country. The Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 mandates the States to ensure all children between 6 to 14 years of age are in schools and are getting free education.
Besides all the above Laws and Regulations, still we see a lot of children are working at different places due to poverty, illiteracy, unemployment of their parents. Many places these children are forced to work in hazardous activities too. If you travel any parts of India, you will come across the child labour scene everywhere, be it brick kiln, hotel or dhaba, stone quarry or any construction sites. The other side of the child labour is supply chain which is invisible. The parents and the adults are not getting adequate jobs and employment and thus are not able to provide education to their children. They remain in poverty and try to feed their family with low wage incomes. With no or less income of the parents, children often deprive from education and become part of labour work. The cycle goes on like this.
Lack of strict enforcement of law, lack of access to education and economic compulsions often forced the children into labour. Identifying children who are more vulnerable to labour and the existing child labour, enrolling them into education should be the prime agenda of the Government. The State Governments may adopt online classes for children, mentorship through community volunteers on education, provision of door step dry rations (Instead of MDM) to the children to keep them on track for education till the schools are opened. Upliftment of their family economic condition by giving employment to their parents and linking Government schemes will be a major task. Employments should be given to adults only, so that children can continue their education. The identification of these children and families can be done through District Level Task Force (DTF) formed under the Act. DTF meetings should be conducted at regular basis and rescue operations and further rehabilitation should be carried out as per SoP laid down by Ministry of Labour & Emplyment. This will enable registering cases against the erring employers who made the child work and to provide compensation package to the child for rehabilitation. The rehabilitation of the child should be focused on socially, educationally and economically, so that there will be less chance in being child labour again. State Governments should make wide publicity of the PENCIL portal among public for raising awareness for online registration of complaints against child labour. The District Nodal Officers should pro-actively engage themselves to check the complaints filed in the PENCIL Portal at regular basis and bring this matter into either DTF or immediately take action. The premises or shops or establishments where child labour is rescued may be sealed by the authorities. Strict legal action should be initiated against the employer or owner of the establishment.
The worst forms of child labour become more widespread during emergencies. The COVID 19 pandemic has brought a huge impact on economy of the country and has affected a lot in the livelihood of the people. In this situation children are suffer most. The crisis can push millions of vulnerable children into child labour. Children especially boys will be dragged into labour work due to closure of schools, poverty and to share a bit to their family economy. Girls will be forced into early marriages, slavery as a means of survival. Govt has to make necessary provisions in place to avoid such kind of illegal activities and protect the children of our country.
(Alok Kumar Padhi is a development consultant based in Bhubaneswar. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)