India has 11.28 million child labourers. For them life means gruelling work with no overtime pay, no weekends, no holidays... no future?
Employing children in labour intensive work is not new. Nor is it limited geographically. The problem stretches across continents and can be traced back to the Industrial Age. The horrors of the workhouses in Dickens' Oliver Twist have followed us into the 21st century. The International Labour Organisation estimates that about 100-200 million children are engaged in various forms of child labour today. India has the largest number of working children in the world. In Delhi alone 1,30,000 kids work as domestic servants.
(Photo: Left: Mumbai: June 1, 2005: 465 children rescued from 226 industrial units. Another 291 kids found locked in a suffocating room were rescued from jewellery making units...)
Let children be children
Don’t children have rights — right to live, right to education and the right to childhood? Article 24 of the Indian constitution states: “No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed in any factory or mine, or engaged in any hazardous employment.” But match-making, carpet industry and many others use child labour extensively.
Indian carpet industry has looms spread over 15,000 villages, in the Mirzapur-Bhadohi belt of Uttar Pradesh. The childern here work for 12 hours a day to earn a meagre Rs. 10. Tuberculosis is very common among them. The match making industry of Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu) has the single largest concentration of child labourers in the world with 50,000 children. They work 13 hours a day handling hazardous chemicals. The children are between three and a half to 15 years of age and earn Rs. 2 – 7 per day. Children make up almost 50 per cent of the labour force in this industry.
What forces kids to work in such miserable conditions? They work to earn for their families. Bonded child labour — where parents have to pledge their children to pay off inherited debts — is very common in rural India. While poverty leads to child labour the reverse is also true. Child-labourers are illiterate, unskilled and unable to demand their rights. Their work does not give them any opportunity to become skilled or literate. As adults they remain poor and often heavily in debt. It is a vicious cycle, which repeats itself from one generation to another.
Educate — the mantra
But there is hope! Hope in education. Night schools and adult education go a long way to eradicate child labour. In the Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh, for example, 80 per cent of the children in 400 villages attend school. And 60 villages have been made child labour free. You can join the fight against child labour too! Help educate. That is the surest way to give back the kids their right to live and to freedom.