Child Labour: Through An Eagle’s Eye by Aratrika Deb

Often, while travelling we witness children working exhaustively in roadside dhabas, chai-tapris, and also in small-scale mechanic garages. Well, these are the things we get to see, but unfortunately, ignore; the most common reply to hear is “why to fall into trouble?”, or “yeh sab karke humein kya milega?” (“What will we benefit from doing it?”). Trust me, this is just a preliminary picture of the horrors these children have to face, rather, face daily. We do not even get to see the horrendous vision of them working in brick kilns and firecracker workshops (maybe that sight might shiver us up!). The worst part being, that their parents send them forcefully to such places in order bring home, some earnings, even if it is a meagre amount. This, my friend, is child labour. However, activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money/working for experience outside school hours and during school holidays should not be mixed with the above-stated ones. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life. So, if you opine that providing elementary and intermediate school kids with internship opportunities (according to New Education Policy) is child labour, then ‘think again’!
So, let us start from scratch, and learn all over again, the basics of child labour.
According to the definition given by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the term “child labour” is often described as the work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. Specifically, it refers to works that:
• Is mentally, physically, socially or normally dangerous and harmful to children; and/or,
• Interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely and attempt to compensate with long and heavy work.
The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) was created in 1992 with the overall goal of the progressive elimination of child labour, which was to be achieved through strengthening the capacity of countries to deal with the problem and promoting a worldwide movement to combat child labour. IPEC’s work to eliminate child labour is an important facet of the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda. Child labour not only prevents children from acquiring the skills and education they need for a better future, but it also perpetuates poverty and affects national economies through losses in competitiveness, productivity and potential income. Withdrawing children from child labour, providing them with education and assisting their families with training and employment opportunities contribute directly to creating decent work for adults.
Finally, the 2 conventions that brought the exploitation of children through labour globally, into the limelight and helped in its eradication are as follows:
• ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (no. 138): One of the most effective methods of ensuring that children do not start working too young is to set the age at which children can legally be employed or otherwise work. The aim of ILO Convention No.138 on the minimum age is the effective abolition of child labour by requiring countries to:
o Establish a minimum age for entry into work or employment (age 14 for India); and
o Establish national policies for the elimination of child labour.
Its ramifications are further stated in Recommendation no. 146 which stresses that national policies and plans should provide for poverty alleviation and the promotion of decent jobs for adults so that parents do not need to resort to child labour; free and compulsory education and provision of vocational training; extension of social security and systems for birth registration; and appropriate facilities for the protection of children, and adolescents who work.
• ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182): Probably the first convention to achieve universal ratification, this helped to focus the international spotlight on the urgency of action to eliminate as a priority, the worst forms of child labour without losing the long term goal of the effective elimination of all child labour. Convention No. 182 requires countries to take ratifying countries to take immediate, effective and time-bound measures to eliminate the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency. Recommendation no. 190 takes Convention 182 forward by stressing on the definition of “hazardous work” which includes: work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; work underground, underwater, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools or carrying heavy loads; exposure to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels or vibrations damaging to health; work for long hours, night work, and unreasonable confinement to the premises of the employer.
Despite these efforts, child labour continues to exist on a massive scale, sometimes in appalling conditions, particularly in the developing world. This is because child labour is an immensely complex issue. It cannot be made to disappear simply by the stroke of a pen. Nevertheless, the basis of determined and concerted action must be legislation, which sets the total elimination of child labour as the ultimate goal of policy and puts measures into place for this purpose, and which explicitly identifies and prohibits the worst forms of child labour to be eliminated as a matter of priority. Thus keeping these visions in mind, the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation continues to move ahead in its journey to erase child labour from the world and provide basic education to them for their mental, physical and spiritual upliftment.


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