United Nations defines child labour as work, which deprives children of their childhood, their dignity, and potential, and that is harmful to their physical and mental health. It refers to the work that interferes with the schooling of the children and becomes a drag on their overall development.
Child labour started with the onset of the Industrial Revolution in Britain in the late 18th century as it led to a rapid increase in the industrial exploitation of labour, including child labour. The immigration of Irish immigrants to the United States due to Irish potato famine of 1845, also called the great hunger multiplied it. Lot has changed since then but the Child Labour is still extant in the world as a menace. It is detrimental not only to a particular family but to the entire country. Today’s children are tomorrow’s future. Country’s progress and development rely on them. But the Child labour exposes them to an environment that inflicts sufferings on their physical and mental health. The difficulty of tasks, working conditions, and maltreatment from bosses creates a plethora of problems such as premature aging, malnutrition, depression, drug dependency, physical and sexual violence, etc apart from stripping them of educational rights – that makes the foundation of a progressive nation. All these are having negative implications for the whole nation. Also, it is a brazen violation of their rights. It denies them the opportunity to reach their full potential and is a total wastage of human resources. It can heighten illiteracy, unemployment, and trigger many other social problems.
The murder of child Zohra Shah in Pakistan and the death of Indian girl – Jamlo Makdam underscored the agony that Child Labour usually brings. 8-year old domestic worker Zohra Shah was tortured to death by the couple for mistakenly freeing expensive parrots from the cage. Jamlo Makdam, a 12 yrs old Indian farm worker died during a 100 Km trek home following the coronavirus lockdown. She died of dehydration and exhaustion on her way home. It is different from other migrant deaths because the girl was a child, not a migrant worker and child labour claimed her life.
According to estimates from the International labour Organization (ILO) there are 152 million children in child labour and about 72 million of which are in hazardous work worldwide.
Even though India and Pakistan made encouraging progress in recent years in curbing this problem, child labour is still a gruesome reality. There are many areas where children are being employed as labours. In the subcontinent, children used to work entirely on farms but they are now moving to non-farm jobs. The garment industry, brick kilns, sugarcane, tobacco industries, etc now see a huge number of child workers.
Child Labour is the outcome of many other socio-economic issues. These are poverty, illiteracy, and trafficking, to mention but a few.
Due to poverty coupled with illiteracy, parents force their children to work instead of enrolling them in schools. In quest of increasing family income, parents encourage child labour. Out of ignorance, they believe educating children means consuming money and making them work means earning income. But, least they understand, that Child labour does not reduce but amplifies the poverty because the children who are forced to sacrifice education for work are doomed to low-wage jobs throughout their lives, insufficient to raise the standard of living. Child right activist and noble laureate Kailash Satyarthi rightly points out that ‘Child labour perpetuates poverty’. We cannot close eyes to the reality that poverty and child labour are interconnected but the latter is not the solution of the former.
Trafficking is another major problem responsible for Child labour. According to the Trafficking Protocol, child trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, harboring, transfer, or receipt of children for exploitation. According to ILO estimation, about 1.2 million children are trafficked yearly for sexual exploitation and child labour. India has a high volume of child trafficking. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, as many as one child disappears every eight minutes. These children are mainly trafficked for begging, sexual exploitation, and Child labour.
Sometimes many reasons are given to vindicate Child labour but frankly speaking, there can be no excuse for it and no reason can justify it.
In every country, laws have been laid down. However, due to one or the other reasons, Child labour has not minimized as expected. Experts are of the view that loopholes in the Indian labour law resulted in its failure as it approves and allows children under 14 to work in “family enterprises,’’ which is now abused under different names. And in some parts of the world like Pakistan, laws are completely ignored.
Therefore, to break the spine of this problem, a multi-pronged approach is required. The onus lies on higher authorities to make sure that poverty must not be a compelling factor behind child labour. Fatherless children are left with no choice other than working to bring home the bacon. Proper care of them is necessary to stop them from ruination. NGO’s and responsible citizens have vital role here.
Stringent laws should be passed. Ensuring their effective implementation is the need of the hour. In reality, this is essential for long-lasting social change and the tool to nip this evil in the bud.
Creating awareness about child rights and the importance of education is must. Prime targets should be parents. Educating less-educated or illiterate parents about the drawbacks of child labour can be productive in fighting this scourge. Motivating parents to send more children to school can bring the menace of Child labour under control. Last but not least, activists, media persons, civil societies, non-government organizations, in fact, people from all walks of life need to unite against the issue so that our children can have a prosperous life. Let us vow on this world day against child labour (12 June) to strive at individual level for protection of child rights.
Zeeshan Rasool Khan, writes on current socio-political issues, tweets @zeeshan_rk and can be mailed at [email protected]