How legalizing child work may impact the future of millions of children

Indian government wants to make amendments to Child Labour Law, allowing children below 14 years to work in ‘family enterprises’.


While globally, the World Day Against Child Labour in the year 2015 had its focus on the importance of quality education as an important mechanism to respond to child labour, Indian government is mulling over bringing new provisions as official amendments to Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Bill, 2012 allowing children below 14 years to work in ‘family enterprises’ (including entertainment industry and sports activities), the so called informal economy.

flickr cc Frank Ritchie

A girl in a slum in Delhi breaks up small tiles flickr cc Frank Ritchie

Globally, the number of children in child labour has declined by one third (168 million from 246 million children) due to strong measures taken at International and at countries level, however, Asia and the Pacific region still has largest number of children as labourers. While agriculture has the majority of child labourers (59%), the situation is paramount in the informal economy too.

This amendment would go against the Convention 138 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (1973) which brings forth the alignment between completion of compulsory education and employment age. It stresses on the minimum age for work be not below completion of compulsory education, generally taken as 15 with an exception to developing countries as 12-14. India is on the other hand on the retrograde mode of joining the other 40% States who have not still aligned the two ages.

Generally, categorization is made in the concept of child labour; between general child labour activities and worst forms of child labour (child sex slavery, prostitution, child soldiers) for giving prioritization in the State laws and action. Researches have shown that there are no worst forms; any kind of child labour is labour, each affecting developmental growth of the child.

While the justification given by Indian authorities for bringing an amendment is that it would be legally right to do home based work, provided it isn’t affecting the education of the child. But micro level analysis would tell us that this step may have far reaching negative consequences on affecting children’s involvement in the education system, especially attendance, retention rate and learning level outcomes, both in urban and rural areas. Even though Right to Education Act has helped in bringing children to the schools with a decrease in drop out amongst child labour from 12.6 million (2001) to 4.3 million (2014), but with the present lack of child mapping system, the regulation of children (who are ‘helping’ parents at work) would become practically difficult. How would one then differentiate whether a child himself (herself) wants to help the family or is being forced to get involved in the work as a means of survival? We need to be open minded in accepting that family enterprises can also be exploitative and detrimental to the health (physical and psychological) needs of children.

flickr cc R Barraez D´Lucca

Number of studies have shown that parents receive larger advance from employers by counting their children as working members. flickr cc R Barraez D´Lucca

Slipper making industry, Zari industry requires soft hands, the role that is being filled by the children already, but is kept in wraps. This move by the government would open up Pandora box where in the name of family work; these children would be involved in exploitative work. This would help not the family, but surely the middle men for the reasons known. Number of studies have shown that parents receive larger advance (which helps them in payment of loans) from the employers by counting their children as working members which makes the family oblige to involve their children at work too. Legalising child work would further give space for the employers to exploit the families by getting cheap labour ‘legally’.

If the objective is to nurture entrepreneurship skills amongst children as it looks from the Ministries’ justification, India needs to and should strengthen its structures and institutions to build and hone the skills amongst children through within its own system. National Vocational Education framework and Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Vocationalisation of Secondary Education under Ministry of Human Resource Development should be revamped and made more robust to bring the neediest children in its purview, integrating education and vocational skills. It is but only education that can break the cycle of disadvantage for the poor. With India having a supreme youth demographic; with 65% of its population being 35 or under, and half the country’s population of 1.25 billion people being under 25 years of age, India needs to develop its citizens’ skill set to be used judiciously.

Looking at a larger picture, we need to reflect whether the processes of governance and making laws in the largest democracy is in real democratic, whether the voices of the unprivileged is taken into picture while framing laws and policies. One of the categories of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), ratified by India is ‘child participation’, the aspect which has been grossly missed in this entire process. Questions need to be asked, whether children’s voice in this entire process were taken into account? Are issues of child’s right to play, adequate right to sleep taken into account? Each individual, civil society organizations need to come to forefront on this issue to advocate with the government to bring dignity to the childhood.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a development professional working in an International organization working on the child rights' issues since the last five years. I have been involved in programme design, implementation and monitoring of partner NGOs, donor and budget management. I have had the opportunity to work on the issues of education, child protection and emergency response in an integrated way keeping child in the f... more

   FOLLOW US

   SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
  Top Stories on TA






  Top Stories in SOCIETY






   Get stories like this in your inbox

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a development professional working in an International organization working on the child rights' issues since the last five years. I have been involved in programme design, implementation and monitoring of partner NGOs, donor and budget management. I have had the opportunity to work on the issues of education, child protection and emergency response in an integrated way keeping child in the f... more

Discuss this article on Facebook