Let us start with numbers to ensure that the seriousness and rawness of the reality stays intact and does not get diminished by proposals comprising of theoretical, conceptual, short-run solutions.
The 2001 National Census of India calculated the total number of children employed as labourers, aged from 5 to 14 years, to be 12.6 million. Those above the age of 14 and below 18 are more likely to be hired as wage/bonded labourers but since there is not reliable data to corroborate it, let us, for now, talk about the existing, concrete, present statistical data that points towards a very dark, gloomy even, picture of young India.
12.6 Million Children being victimized- whose fault is it? Are the legal provisions not tight enough? Or are the Central and State policies unable to protect its citizens?
Child labor in India is defined by the Law as “Children below 14 years of age who engage in economic activities resulting in production of goods and services that add value to national product.”
This definition is ambiguous, focusing entirely, and explicitly, on the economic aspect of work.
The Factories Act of 1948 and The Mines Act of 1952 are both are very specific in their provisions when it comes to penalizing child labor. They clearly prohibit employment of those under 14 years in any factory or mine.
The law and government’s lapses have somewhat contributed to this figure of 12.6 million. Out of these, 0.12 million, as estimated by the same Census, are employed in hazardous jobs. The Indian Express observed that the ban on hazardous adolescent work is accompanied by changes in that category’s statute. The law recognized around 83 occupations as hazardous and now the number has come down to 3, which weakens the labor protection laws and indirectly legalizes child participation.
But these are just few of the sectors that government can recognize because of the apparent economics behind it. The non-economic activities, those that are not included while measuring the GDP, remain unaddressed.
A child working in a tobacco or a fireworks factory can be seen as a case of child labor because the law is quite clear on these issues. But suppose a child has to fill in for her/his family member because of the latter’s personal issues, be it health or anything on those lines- can that be seen as a lapse in system and a direct offence breaching constitutional provisions? What does the law say about child actors?
Educational structure of India is not completely immune to such socioeconomic problems that children are forced to face. But it has, time and again, been unable to find solutions to repair this. Child labor becomes an instrument that perpetuates the deprivation cycle that children, mostly from the weaker sections of society, are confronted with, and unable to respond to such situations, they often give up the hope for betterment.
The 12.6 that are currently working for a market that they are not yet supposed to know of. Most of them are not going to get an education due to a variety of factors, ranging from lack of time to domestic issues. The literacy rate of the country automatically gets affected in such a huge number of its citizens are uneducated and have no future prospects that assure them of and equal future.
The complex relationship between child labor and education is one that has to be understood. They affect each other massively; the continuation of one has negative implications on the other and the other cannot be achieved unless the former is dealt with. Child labor and education can be categorized as a cause and effect relationship.
For every child that is out of school, for every child that is being exploited and underpaid, answers must be provided in form of permanent, long-term solutions that ensure the end of such a structure.