Free and happy children: Learn, not earn!
One of the most prevalent ills of our society is child labour. The first story I ever read about child labour was based on Firozabad’s glass bangle industry. The story deplorably described how the children in the ‘Suhag Nagri’ sat and crouched for hours by a burner, inhaling toxic fumes while their deft fingers picked up and moulded the ends of glittering bangles. The petrifying visible horrors and tears of children have not hidden anymore. NGOs have been rescuing and rehabilitating children who work as labourers in industries such as in Firozabad. However, is it enough? To protect the freedom that these little ones deserve as human beings, to make people aware of the traumas of child labour, and to stand united for the unprivileged children, every June 12 World Day Against Child Labour is observed. This year's theme focuses on the urgent need to protect children from under-age labour, especially in the world of COVID-19.
Amid this global pandemic, these children need our help more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic and labour market shock are having a huge impact on everyone’s lives, especially children. The crisis can push millions of vulnerable children into child labour as vulnerable families are losing on their means of earning. From working in hazardous factories to working behind closed doors as domestic help, these children are largely losing their childhoods to their never-ending earning line-of work. We all know that little boy in a tea-stall working for his ‘master’, tending to all the orders. We know of many little girls working as domestic help, assisting their ‘owners’ in all the household chores. As desperately as we want to rescue these children from the grip of their proprietors, we hold back- they are working to earn money. Poverty is the root cause of child labour, forcing young lives to enter the labour market to supplement their family incomes. This is a perpetual cycle leading to slowing economic growth and social development. Due to this cycle, children are missing out on educational opportunities. According to census 2011, India has 10.1 million working children between the ages of 5-14 years. Besides, 42.7 million children are out of school. All over the world, there are an estimated 152 million children in child labour, 72 million of which are in hazardous work.
The Government of India enacted a law against child labour in 1993 prohibiting dangerous work or activities that could harm the mental, spiritual, moral, or social development of girls and boys under the age of 18. However, people exploit loopholes in the law which allows the employment of children if the work is part of a family business. Thus, having children sell cigarettes on the street could be considered legal if it is part of a family business. Besides, numerous business leaders, such as mine owners, hold political office and have a considerable influence and defer from banishing the cheap labour from within their business operations. Thus, child labour continues. In 2006 and again in 2016, tightened laws against child labour were ensured so that children under the age of 14 are prohibited from working as domestic help or service staff in restaurants and hotels. However, child labour in family businesses remained acceptable. Also, the law does not apply to teenaged children from 15 to 17 years old who are only prohibited from doing "dangerous" work. These laws also do not exclude activities such as fieldwork where children are exposed to pesticides or physically exhausting work like carpet weaving.
It is important to combat extreme poverty, a root cause of child labour. Addressing poverty and inequality is crucial to ending child labour in India. Providing vulnerable households with viable livelihoods and alternative income-generating opportunities, including cash transfers can aid in mitigating the risk of a resurgence of child labour and forced labour. Rescuing children who have been confined in the workplace and subjected to forced labour will help cut down the numbers of child labourers. Access to education is also vital to break the vicious cycle of poverty and child labour. It is the call of the hour to educate the children who are the future resources of the nation. Raising our voices against child labour will aid the children who can’t do so for themselves. Be it any crisis or not, join hands to save these children, advocate learning not earning.
*Radhika Boruah works as the Editor-in-Chief of Globalshala, an educational start-up that facilitates students wishing to pursue higher education abroad. She works as a Volunteer under the Research Division of Project Saathi and is the Co-Editor of the Report on Impact of COVID-19 on Education and Mental Health of Students published by Project Saathi.