Despite provisions prohibiting child labor in India, it has the highest number of child workers in the world.
The estimates of child laborers in India range from the government’s low figure of 20 million to civil society’s count of up to 50 million. With the 12 June marking the World Day Against Child Labor, much attention has been focused on the necessary fight to end child labor—in India and abroad.
India has several laws in place to prevent child labor. Compulsory education and child protection provisions were inscribed in India’s constitution in 1950. In 1986, India passed its hallmark Child Labor Act. This law prohibited children under age fourteen from working and outlined specific hazardous trades deemed especially dangerous for children. Later in 1996, India’s Supreme Court responded to the persistent violation of anti-child labor laws by directing the government to take direct national action. These Court ordered the government identify every child engaged in hazardous work, extract them from this situation and place them in schools.
Yet the problem persists.
There are many reasons for the consistency of this issue in India. The primary reason is bitterly straightforward—raw poverty. Families depend on the supplementary income children earn in factories, at looms, in mines and on the streets. Other families shunt children to child traffickers. This is highly prevalent in Northern India in states such as Bihar. With schools often ill-equipped and under-staffed, many do not trust what they perceive to be a highly incompetent education system. They will not gamble the consistent income a child brings on the unsure outcome of investing in a shaky school system. Other key reasons are deeply rooted in caste and gender structures in Indian society.
The 2010 Right to Education takes new aim at eliminating child labor. RTE, put into force on April 1, 2010, compels all children to attend school through age 14. The Indian Government and civil society organizations point to the strong link between education and eliminating child labor.
The International Labor Organization
(ILO)’ Director for the South Asia Office André Bogui explains, “RTE is a powerful tool to make sure that children are not working and in school where they belong.”
ILO is the primacy international organization focusing on ensuring just, equitable and ethical labour rights around the world.
However it remains to be seen whether RTE will--in reality--affect the change it aims to bring about or whether poor administration and lack of accountability will, like so many laws before it, allow these problems to persist.
If you know of any children who need help, please contact Childline at 1098. More information is available here.
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