A child who is guaranteed protections under the Indian Law, and guaranteed an education and mid-day meals, till the age of 14 spends his time selling stuff on red lights or delivering tea on the dhabas.Chotu running with tea glasses is such a common phenomenon that we don’t even realize that this is one of the most disturbing sites. It has been normalized and has become an internalized personality trait of the larger Indian society, which supports and abets the child labors at home and public places.
Despite rates of child labour declining over the last few years, children are still being used in some severe forms of child labour such as bonded labour, child soldiers, and trafficking. Across India, child labourers can be found in a variety of industries: in brick kilns, carpet weaving, garment making, domestic service, food and refreshment services (such as tea stalls), agriculture, fisheries,, and mining. Children are also at risk of various other forms of exploitation including sexual exploitation and production of child pornography, including online.
Child labor and exploitation are the results of many factors, including poverty, social norms condoning them, lack of decent work opportunities for adults and adolescents, migration, and emergencies. These factors are not only the cause but also a consequence of social inequities reinforced by discrimination.
According to UNICEF, there are about 10.1 million children are employed in child labor in India today. That amounts to approximately 13% of our workforce. India has been trying to combat this since before it became a republic, with the passing of the Employment of Children Act, 1938.
Post-independence, the Factories Act, 1948, and the Mines Act, 1952, banned the practice of using children below the age of 14 and 18, in their respective production processes.
This set the tone for the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 which prevents the employment of children below the age of 14 years in life-threatening occupations identified in a list by the law and finally, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act of 2000 made the employment of children a punishable offense. However, even after all this, child labor continues to be the norm in a lot of industries.
With the onset of urbanization, while child labour has fallen in the rural regions, it has only increased in the urban, and child labour numbers have climbed from 1.3 million in 2001 to 2 million in 2011. More worryingly, these numbers (as terrible as they are) might not paint the whole picture, as millions of children labourers remain invisible, employed in homes as domestic help, and paid wages. In several cases, child labour is akin to modern-day slavery, with children only being fed enough for their subsistence and receiving little to no other compensation for their work. Children spend their lives working for the same household, with work hours only increasing as they grow older, and as a result, grow up stunted, and with health problems. Most of the time we do not notice that a making a child work is a crime. It may be committed by his employer or anyone of us when we have a child at home for our household chores. Unfortunately, nothing can curb this practice until we citizens become aware and actively stop this practice.
Children belong in schools, not workplaces. Child labour deprives children of their right to go to school and reinforces intergenerational cycles of poverty. Though the things have improved with more children going to school and awareness spreading to stop child labour, we as citizens must do our duty and should actively work to stop child labour wherever and whenever – at a dhaba or in our homes child labour is not acceptable and it should be challenged in unequivocal terms.