Child labour has been in a decline across the world over the recent decades. Strict laws and regulations and international coordination has strongly deterred exploiters from hiring cheap child labour. But in India child labour lakhs and lakhs of children continue to be exploited. According to statistics by the International Labour Organization, around 12.9 million children continue to be engaged in work between the ages of 7 to 17. Amongst this, around 20% of children between the age of 15 and 17 have been employed in hazardous industries. This is a grave violation of the children’s rights, but it is continuing in India without any checks. However, there are several laws in India that prohibit this practice of child labour. In this article, we will explain about the causes of child labour and mention about the various laws prohibiting child labour.
Causes of Child Labour in India
Child labour is an issue that is seen only in developing countries. From this one can easily decipher that there is one thing that is quite common amongst developing countries which is poverty. Poverty is indeed a leading cause of child labour in India. Mentioned below are few major causes of child labour in India:
- Poverty – Due to the massive population in India and lack of opportunities many families leave below the poverty line. Despite government help through various schemes, these families fail to make ends meet. Many families even go without food for days. In such dire situations, the children the house are forced to go out and indulge menial work for a very low amount.
- Limited access to education – In the poorer regions of the country, there is a smaller number of government funded educational institutions. Some of these schools are not able to afford seats to each and every child from the region. Thus, many children are not able to go to schools. Sometimes there are no schools in the close vicinity of children due to the remoteness of where they live. These children who grow up uneducated are forced to take up work even when they are underaged.
- Lack of enforcement of laws – There is a severe lack of enforcement of the existing laws preventing child labour in India. The factories who employ children en masse are often overlooked by police due to political pressure or bribery. These factories make the children work day and night and pay a very meagre compensation.
- Debt – For poor families, the income is already low. But the things get even more depressing when they owe a lot of money. Without a steady flow of income, they are not able to clear their dues. This forces the parents to bring their children out of school and makes them work so that they can help towards paying off their debts.
International Law on protection of Child Labour
Child labour and its exploitation is not a problem that is limited to India, but it is quite prevalent across the world. India’s neighbors such as Bangladesh and Pakistan also face from the same issue. In fact, according to numbers by UNICEF there are about 152 million children in the world that are employed as child labourers. In South Asia, the number is as high as 41 million.
Given the massive spread of child labour across developing countries in the world there has been an international coordination and formation of laws and rules to eradicate it. The Minimum Age Convention, 1973 or Convention 138 provides that a child can only be employed in hazardous conditions if they are 18 and above. It further provides that the minimum age for work or employment would be 15 years of age. India is a signatory to the Minimum Age Convention.
The other strong convention on child rights and protection against child labour is the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999. This convention has a requirement that all the ratifying countries have to enact laws and policies that prohibit the worse forms of child labour. The worst forms child labour that it intends to ban is child trafficking, child slavery, debt bondage, and child prostitution. India has ratified to this treaty too.
Indian Legislation on Child Labour Prohibition
Keeping mind its international obligations and the rampant exploitation of children India, the Indian government has brought forward multiple provisions that deter and make child labour illegal. Some of them are:
- The Mines Act, 1952 – The Mines Act is primary legislation for dealing with mining and its related activities. Section 40 of the Act specifically deals with the issue of child labour. According to Section 40, no mines in India can employ children below the age of 18. However, the provision has given an exception and provided trainees below the age of 16 can be allowed to work but only under expert supervision.
- The Factories Act, 1948 – The Factories Act is the primary legislation for regulating factories in India. Section 67 of the Act states that a child below the age of 14 shall not be employed to work in any kind of factory in India. The Act has further provided for various conditions and requirements that must be fulfilled if a child above the age of 14 years is to be employed in a factory. These requirements include the production of a certificate of fitness and working hour limits.
- The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 – The act was enacted with an intention to ban the employment of children below the age of 14 in certain occupations. The Act also regulates the working conditions of places where it legal for a child to work.
- The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2015: It prohibits and makes it illegal to keep a child in bondage so as to extract work from him or her under Section 79. The section has also provided for an imprisonment terms for anyone who engages in this practice.
It is truly disheartening to see that even today the scale of child exploitation through employment and labour is so rampant in India. There are many laws that are sufficient for a proper redressal but there has been no sign of the problem being curbed down. It would need the collective effort of heavier enforcement by the state and activism on the side of people to permanently rid India of this menace.