That children in India continue to be employed in hazardous workplaces is a harsh reality. Despite laws prohibiting child labor in the country, scores of children work in factories, construction sites, restaurants, and as domestic help. Devoid of education, these children spend their childhood trying to substantiate their family incomes.
Two such incidents recently came into light in Guwahati when on 8 October, 11 child labourers were rescued from the Athgaon area. The operation was launched by the District Task Force under Kamrup (M) district administration, District Child Protection Officer, Labour Department and NGO Childline. The boys, between the ages of nine and 16, were allegedly being used as child labourers in places like restaurants, garages and shops. The labour department has lodged a formal FIR against the employers at the Bharalumukh Police Station. All the children were later handed over to the District ‘Shishu Suraksha Samiti’. The second instance occurred on 14 November when four child labourers were rescued from the Jalukbari area by the District Task Force Committee of Child Labour. Three of these children were rescued from two restaurants while another from a slaughter house by officials from the Labour Department along with the Guwahati Police and representatives of Bachpan Bachao Andolan. According to the sources, a formal FIR has been lodged at the Jalukbari Police Station against the employers by the Labour Department for engaging child labourers. Labour Inspectors Brajen Barua, Nizara Hazarika and Nandini Phukan of the Office of the Assistant Labour Commissioner Kamrup (Metro) filed the FIR.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines child labor as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; interferes with their schooling 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. Over population, , , debt trap are some of the common causes which are instrumental to the continuation of this menace in society. Families that have three to four children see them as earning hands and send them to work at a tender age. Despite working for long hours, the wages they earn are minimum and not sufficient to meet the needs of the family. Hence, they continue to work from an age when they are supposed to play, study and be carefree about their lives. Parents who are illiterate are not aware of the necessity to educate their children. The Right to Education Act, 2009 mandates free and compulsory education to children between the ages of 6 to 14 years. However, the benefits of this legislation have not accrued to the poor and disadvantaged sections of the society. The local news channels are abuzz with reports of the dangers that school going children encounter on a day-to-day basis due to lack of schools in the vicinity as well as absence of infrastructure to reach the ones located at nearby villages or towns. Another reason why children are often employed by employers is because child labor is cheap. Children are made to work as much as adults, while they wages they are paid are less than half of what the adults receive. Thus, shopkeepers, factory and restaurant owners, meat vendors, etc employ children to work for them so that they can pay minimum wages and earn maximum profits. Poor implementation of existing laws also perpetuates child labor in India.
The war against this social evil needs to be waged on the economic, social and legal fronts. The root cause of child labor is poverty. To prevent child labour, incidence of poverty needs to be reduced first, so that poor people do not have to send their children to earn their bread and butter. Spreading literacy and education is a potent weapon against the practice of child labour. It is difficult for illiterate parents to comprehend the benefits of sending their children to school. When parents are educated, they will duly ensure that their children have access to educational opportunities. The free and compulsory education provided by the Right to Education Act is a significant aid in this regard. A third way to deal with this menace is to reduce unemployment. It is due to lack of employment opportunities that families are not able to meet their needs and thus send their children to work. Generating employment avenues will ensure a stable source of income to the families and children, instead of toiling hard throughout the day will be able to read, write and play. There has never been a dearth of laws prohibiting child labor in the country.
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