July , 2018
Child Labour—A side effect of India’s poverty
14:10 pm

Samprikta Sinha

Every day, while commuting, I see little kids playing and loitering around under the Gariahat flyover. Families reside there, and they are raising their children amidst such poverty. Clad in extremely dirty clothes with dishevelled hair, even matted—you would find these kids roaming around the streets, often with packets of incense sticks in their hands, begging you to buy them. These children can’t afford their basic rights as human beings. They don’t go to school but toil away in the roadside stalls washing and cleaning dishes, or working in some factory or grocery stores. These are the people that fall prey to many crimes -  from petty thefts to human trafficking. Poverty is one of the raging issues gnawing at the heart of the country. Unless poverty and inequality are dealt with, India’s economic condition won’t improve.According to the National Census of 2011, the number of child labourers in India, between the age group of 5 and 14 years, is nearly about 10.1 million. The NGO, Child Rights and You (CRY) took out a census which recorded that about 1.4 million children in the age group of 7 to 14 years are illiterate. They are incapable of writing even their own names. The future of these kids is bleak.The picture gets gloomier. The number of illiterate child labourers in Bihar is about 45%. The figure stands at 40% in Rajasthan and Jharkhand, while in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, it is about 38%. Uttar Pradesh is considered to be the largest centre of child labour accounting for almost 20% of India’s child labourers. Almost 80% of the children, between the age group of 5 to 17 years, in the rural areas are workers or labourers. They work in agriculture, mostly in the area of fishing, livestock, farming and forestry, and the majority of them are unpaid family members.Child trafficking for domestic slavery is on the rise. Every year thousands of children go missing from some of the most remote areas of the country and are sold off in the cities in various establishments, including wealthy families that keep them as domestic helps.Children get trafficked both inside and outside the country where submissive labour is in demand, especially in sectors with tough working conditions that disregard basic human rights. Industries employ them since that way they can cut down on labour costs as the wage remains minimal. However, children working in these sectors are often exposed to hazardous work environments, which lead to occupational diseases. Devoid of a normal childhood, these children suffer from mental trauma from being bullied or exploited at work. Thus, often times, they grow up as societal misfits.Poverty and child labour go hand in hand. It’s a vicious cycle and unless it is taken care of, none of the issues can be eradicated. A child engages in labour when he has to support his family financially. The causes can be manifold. Lack of education and employment opportunities are two of the main reasons for child labour in a developing country like India. With huge families to rear and low income, parents often force children to work in mines, factories or as hawkers in the streets to provide for necessities like food and clothes. For these families that live in extreme poverty, feeding and keeping their children alive becomes more important than educating them. Robbing children of their fundamental right to education is a misdemeanor. However, with education becoming costlier by the day, the poor can only afford basic education for their children. (Sometimes, even that becomes uncertain.) Those who go to school and work simultaneously are found to be skipping school for work. In fact, about 2 million marginal workers (those who work for less than six months in a year) compromise their education to provide for their families, according to records.With no promises of job security, these kids continue to live with risk and remain trapped in the cycle of poverty and inequality. When these kids grow up, get married and have children, the exploitative child labour continues because poverty persists. And so, the cycle continues.India is a country where more than half of the population lives below the poverty line. Although the poverty rate in India has declined from 31.1% in 2009 to 21.1% in 2012, only 5% of India’s surveyed population pay taxes (survey done by CNN). With such an economic condition, literacy rate is unusually low in rural areas. 35.7% of the population doesn’t know how to read or write. One of the major reasons for poverty is the rapid growth of population, which exceeds the rate of growth of the country’s income on the whole. The increase in population growth creates a demand for labour supply, which has very low wage rates. This affects the poor population in general.Several initiatives have been undertaken by the governments, both past and present, to fight the problem, such as The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 and The National Child Labour Project (NCLP). The country witnessed a 65% decrease in child labour in 2014, owing to schemes like Right to Education, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) and the Mid-Day Meal initiative.The need of the hour is a well implemented law by the government on banning child labour and punishing those who engage in such felony. Rehabilitation programmes for former child labourers must be encouraged. Several NGOs have been actively working for the rescue and rehabilitation of child labourers. Most importantly, the prime focus should be on educating children and uprooting poverty for battling the peril of child labour in India. 

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