CHILD LABOUR: THE ROBBERY OF CHILDHOOD
By: Arpita Varma & Astha* |
Over the past decades, child labour has become an important global issue associated with inadequate education, poverty and gender inequality. This illicit practice recognizes economic vulnerability and lack of co-dependency as crucial factors that tends to push children into being the most disadvantaged groups of the society where they are deprived of their basic human rights to the exercise and enjoyment of which they are entitled by virtue of being born. Child labour has always been morally and ethically unacceptable because this perilous practice showcases innocent children only as economic assets. It is a crime that explicitly targets the dreams and aspirations of young souls by snatching away their opportunity of living a dignified life and subjecting them to perpetual exploitation.
Furthermore, child labour also violates certain general principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC): Non-discrimination, the best interest of the child, Right to life survival and development, and Right to be heard which are based on the premise that children everywhere are entitled to certain basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. In India, approximately 10.1 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 years old engage in work and are at a higher risk of being forced into hazardous labour which severely violates Article 24 of the Indian Constitution which prohibits children below the age of 14 years to work in factories, mines or other hazardous activities.
This article further discusses the significant factors that promote child labour and even attempts at unravelling certain attributes of child labour that are considered detrimental to a child’s health and development. It also highlights the intensity of this irrational practise of child labour and the shortcomings of the enforcers of law while stating some suggestive measures for restoring the livelihoods of child labourers.
FACTORS PERPETUATING CHILD LABOUR
In India, more than 10.12 million children spend their childhood in learning carpet weaving, beedi-rolling, apparel manufacturing and other countless occupations instead of going to school and receiving a quality education. Child labour additionally influences the general development of children since they do not get a chance to explore themselves through the support of their peers and family members. These children are forcefully made to work, experience confinement and depression on a daily basis only because they belong to a community that has always been oppressed.
Thus, the following are some significant factors that have persuaded young children to indulge in child labour:
Poverty: Child labour is not only an economic compulsion of poor families; it is also the consequences of extreme social and economic exploitation. The guardians of a poverty-ridden-population are often confronted with the bewildering question of whether they ought to send their children to educational institutions to gain knowledge for a better life or to send them to the work market to increase their family income and to make ends meet. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), child poverty is an infringement of child rights as they lack basic amenities for survival. In India, approximately 300 million people are in the condition of near starvation which in result urges children to work since they never truly have another choice of survival; although the problem of child labour is mostly related with the issue of lower wage rates provided to adults as that inadequacy in wages often compels them to send their children at work.
The lure of cheap labour: At the advent of industrialization, there was a tendency amongst the employers to have quick profits at lower cost prices. Due to insatiability of modest work, industries, organizations and other manufacturing plants use children to make a huge advantage by paying them only a little amount of money. The rampant unemployment of parents who force their wards to some odd jobs to supplement the meagre income. The main reason why child labour exists is not because children are capable of performing various kinds of work but because they can be hired for less money; hence, children are preferred by the employers mainly because they demand less and can be silenced easily.
Family tradition and culture: The peculiar restrictions, particularly on the education of children, are another dimension that leads to the growth of child labour. Majority of children of a country’s population are committed to the culture of working from the beginning in order to fulfil their basic needs. The size of families which exist in the society also plays a very important role in carrying out such a tradition. Section 3 of The Child Labour (Protection and Regulation) Act, 1986 is often and invariably misused. This keeps the occupation and the work procedures carried on by the occupier with the aid of the family out of the purview of the Act. Generally, the poverty-stricken families are large in number and all the children of these families at a very young age are supposed to put themselves in the shoes of the breadwinner of the family because for them anything else than earning money holds very little relevance.
Socio-economic backwardness: The state of poverty and joblessness give provincial families an impulsive reason to send their children to perform various harmful duties. According to the report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), 90% of child labourers are concentrated in underdeveloped or developing countries implying economic backwardness and stagnation as major causes. There has been a rise in the concentration of wealth at the employer’s part and unemployment at the victim’s part resulting in child labour as the only solution to this continual situation. The socio-economic conditions of the poor continuously force them to be on the move- in search of employment and survival; and since they also lack education and legal awareness, they continue to remain unaware of all the schemes and legislatures that are essential for their sustenance.
ROLE OF CHILD LABOUR IN PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL DEGENERATION
In India, child labour has existed for way too long- successfully taking undue advantage of vulnerable and impoverished children. Child labour paves way for psychological abuse, involuntary slavery and physical degeneration. Children not only lose their childhoods but are also forced to adapt to a lifestyle where they are deprived of parental guidance and their basic rights to life and personal liberty: fundamental rights enshrined under the Indian Constitution. At an early age, children are pushed into adverse conditions that create major upheavals in their childhoods which disrupts the development of their cognitive skills causing them to become withdrawn, introvert and uncommunicative. Furthermore, as they are children destitute of freedom to choose and the privilege to dream, the responsibility of providing financial aid to their families is always prioritized over their personal needs.
There are about 40% of child labourers who have suffered abnormal psychological. According to Ehsan, children often take a lot of pride in what they do in their initial years because they are unable to comprehend the long-term effects of their job, this further results in them falling into the trap of psychological distress. Worldwide, child labour is prohibited under international treaties, numerous agreements, domestic constitutions and statutes. However, child labour has now become a deeply-rooted social tradition that promotes the exploitation of economically weaker communities since discrimination against certain groups, poorly-structured educational systems, and execution of hideous crimes for the gratification of insignificant pleasures are still prevalent. Employers try pushing the child labourers into hollowness while trying every possible way to make them invisible to society and undermine all their fundamental rights-based in human nature and have gained absolute control over them. The child is left to go through premature ageing, malnourishment, drug dependency which endangers his dignity, especially when sexual exploitation such as prostitution and child pornography is involved. This makes every child a victim of mental, physical and emotional abuse accompanied by long-run consequences like- a higher probability of suffering from health problems, substantial impact on the family income and illiteracy.
Evidently, even governments seem to have relinquished their duty of satisfying the aspirational values of children and validating this abusive practice of child labour without upholding the predators for sheer violation of human rights because still millions of poverty-stricken children across the globe are forced into unpaid and hazardous labour which make them completely oblivious to educational opportunities, cheerful childhoods and a prosperous future. Thus, this stimulates a hierarchy of generations to be involved in child labour and the vicious cycle of poverty is perpetuated unless the core factors of child labour are not eliminated and children are not empowered. The innumerable number of child labourers across the globe go through long-term impacts of labour as they lack educational opportunities, have underdeveloped cognitive skills and distorted childhoods while being financially exhausted; they live an unimaginable life of fear and stress which takes a mental toll on their psychological growth and coerces them to conform to all kinds of irrational norms and malpractices which makes them a little hopeful.
Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States said “A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started…the fate of humanity is in his hands”. It is, therefore, necessary for all to recognize a child’s psychological growth and financial security as certain paramount requisites in order to prevent any child from deviating to a path where he is forced to commit to a life out of helplessness. The law on child labour in India provides punishment for illegal labour of children but does not completely penalize the employers. There is a legal obligation on the state and central governments to act in accordance with the fundamental rights enshrined in their Constitution. In India, Article 21(A) of the Constitution has been implemented that mandates free and compulsory education for all the children in the age group of 6 to 14 years and even the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had welcomed this historic move by the government of India for the empowerment and protection of children. It is very important for a child to get proper education because that provides them with a definite direction and a well-planned life because without education and quality skills, child labourers are often ostracized from the mainstream and lose on the opportunity to gain wisdom and experience for upgrading their lifestyles. Even the Judiciary has played a crucial role in the protection of child labour. It has directed State authorities to create an environment where the child can grow and develop his personality without facing any kind of abuse and exploitation. The Judiciary has taken preventive measures to safeguard children from their employers by fixing their working hours, providing medical facilities, fixed number of wages etc.
It is astonishing enough to witness that since children do not have a proper platform to express themselves it is somehow assumed that abusing them would not be an issue, although according to a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2017, the number of child labourers across the globe has fallen down from 246 million in 2000 to around 152 million in 2016, it has been observed that the world still has to adopt legitimate measures and stringent laws in order to punish the transgressors and fight against the causes of child labour- a gruesome act still prevailing across nations. In India, Africa and Latin America, designated authorities have already stepped up and are working in child labour free zones to ensure that no child misses the opportunity to avail their right to education. Further, The Child Labour Amendment (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 2016 validates India’s obligation to fulfil the International Labour Organization Convention which prohibits hazardous work that is likely to jeopardize a child’s physical mental and moral health.
Globalization would never help if a global solution to child labour is not unravelled soon. We as a nation should unanimously condemn the unnecessary glorification of illegitimate practices like child labour because it disintegrates the lives of young children. Furthermore, besides it being responsible for causing discrepancies in livelihoods, child labour also creates a dent in the economic value of a nation and hampers its overall growth. Therefore, the governments should shoulder their responsibility and work together towards a child labour free world where no child is ever held responsible for their standards of living or forced to merely give up their rights and succumb to despair.
* The authors are the students at Amity Law School, Noida.