Sunday, September 2, 2012

Child labour in India – the serious disconnect between laws and reality

Tyre Worker in Gambia

Recently Union Cabinet approved,

"a proposal for amending the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, to ban employment of children aged up to 14 in any form of industry. It will be an offence to employ such children not only in factories or industries but also in homes or on farms, if their labour is meant to serve any commercial interest."

According to Government of India (GOI)'s own data 46 lakh children can enjoy the befits.

"Cabinet also approved another amendment to define children aged 14-18 as “adolescents” and prohibit their employment in mines, explosives industries, chemical and paint industries and other hazardous establishments."

A good decision? Who will implement it?

It is indeed a good decision to introduce the amendments, after all its the duty of modern society to nurture their future generation and save them from exploitation; but who will ensure that these laws will be followed on the ground? We already have laws prohibiting smoking in public areas, prohibiting sex determination tests, prohibiting female foeticide, prohibition of dowry in marriage etc. Unfortunately, we can see people smoking in public areas, sex ratio going down unnaturally, dowry related torture and deaths etc. So in the case of child labour also there no guarantee that, it will be implemented in letter and spirit.

Young girl working at a loom in Morocco
The other problem related to the prohibition of child labour is more ironic. It’s not that, all Childs who are working in hazardous industries are loved to work there or the owners of such industries forced them to work there (even though it is true that they will like the idea of child labour as they don’t have pay the full wages and comparatively less demands). In many cases these kids may not have any alternative option. What a child can do if the breadwinner in his/her family is dead and there is no one else to earn? What a child can do if the breadwinner in his/her family is seriously ill and they are not able to afford the expenses for medicine as well as food? What a child can do if he/she doesn’t have any permanent home and moving from city to city, and parent’s earnings are not enough to support the younger kids in the family? The questions are endless.

Child care centres?

If you are suggesting something like government run child care centres in every district; I would like to remember you about, what was going in the government run centres for differently-abled people in Kolkata; tragic life of Vrindavan widows in government run ashrams etc. What more, nobody knows whether there will be any serious discussion on this issue in this session of parliament, which is engaged fully in Coal scandals. As CAG's office is not going to shut down today, by the time of next parliament session there will be some other scandals.

Vocational programs?

One another interesting suggestion people often come up with is, imparting technical and vocational skill to the child along with education. Even though it seems to be good option; I am yet to be convinced about its viability. Directionless imparting of something will not help anybody, other than putting administrators in good books. One of my friends joined such a program during his plus two years; even though he did well there, it proved to be little use for his later career. When I was in college, many friends joined some vocational programs; in none of the cases it helped them.

Recently, when I was in a village in northern Karnataka I met one person who served long in cooperative sector. One of the points he put forward, stuck with me for some time. He told 'here (he doesn't mean entire India, but about his district and nearby places) people often completes education, join college and complete their studies; without really thinking what exactly the industry demands'.  We are often doing something for the sake of doing it, instead of sitting back for some time, thinking about it and its consequences.

Child labour in Santiago

Now if government enforced this act using police – well, they will do a really wonderful job when they are motivated and permitted to do. If you have any doubt in the efficiency of police in executing the laws just read the newspapers for the first week after helmet become compulsory in Kerala for the first time - people may remove kids from their service out of fear (at least in the majors cities). But where these kids will go? Who will take them? Even if government is ready to bear the cost for his/her education, it doesn’t solve the problem. The question still remains, who will fill the gap of his income to the family? These are not the issues we can answer by sitting in an armchair and calculating numbers and churning out laws. These are really serious issues which required a well round discussion in and out of parliament...Anybody hearing?... Without any doubt child labour should end...


PS : I was walked through the sides of a group of small tent houses in a major city in India. Around 5-8 families with some 8-10 kids were there with bare essentials to survive. I saw them there for next one month and then disappeared. Will this law help those kids?

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia


  1. you have raised a very relevant point of sufficient care of the children. There should be proper system in place to accommodate their future requirements. It is more often the family compulsions and their contribution the family bread make them work. So a holistic, a multi dimensional collaborative effort shall be made to eliminate the evil of child labour. There must be corollary effort to this ban to support their future and make them productive.

  2. Great Initiative ...very informative blog...Thanks for sharing...

  3. We should join in stop child labour campaign....

  4. Stopping child labour is great initiative .....

  5. Stop child labor..And save childhoods of children ...