Child Labour is a perennial problem in India. It is deemed as the legacy of the old feudal system. The architects of the Indian Constitution were fully aware of this menace and incorporated Articles 15(3), 23, 24, 39(e), (i) and 45 which mandate non employment of children and their induction into schools. Another mandate is provision of free and compulsory elementary education for all children up to the age of 14 within a period of 10 years of adoption of the Republican Constitution in 1950. These were augmented with the Prohibitive Laws namely Bonded Labour System Abolition Act 1976 and Child Labour Regulation Act, 1986. It is a tragic irony that despite a plethora of constitutional mandates, prohibitive laws and international conventions, this abominable system has been thriving uninhibitingly. There are still several millions of child slaves in our country, a great blot on India, the World’s largest democratic country.
They are either in debt bondage or pledged for advances contracted by parents. Some of them are victims of illusory promises made by procurers about bright prospects after undergoing training in certain trades. The major areas of their employment are agriculture, carpet industry, brassware industry, glass and bangles industry, leather industry, gems cutting and polishing, matches and fireworks, stone quarries, brickkilns, handlooms etc.
It is commonly contended that the child labour as a harsh reality is borne out of social, economic and historical reasons. It is believed that four factors namely poverty, unemployment, population and illiteracy are the main reasons for this malady and removal of these is a pre-requisite for wiping out the child labour system. But we argue the other way. Our experience and the various studies conducted by researchers corroborate the fact that child labour is equally, if not solely responsible for causing and perpetuating unemployment, poverty, population growth and illiteracy.
Another area which has caused confusion is the stratification of child labour. The Government’s instrument covers only children working in intolerable conditions and not other child labour, and as such, any attempts by NGOs to end child labour in any form as mandated in the constitution and prohibitive laws have proved futile because of many escape routes in the relevant laws. Bandhua Mukti Morcha has been vehemently opposing such a line of approach. Children working for 10 to 16 hours a day too come under the category of hazardous in the real sense, as long working hours adversely affect their health, mental, physical and moral development, thereby reducing their span of life. Thus potential assets wither away before blossoming. In the long run, these factors outweigh the short gains acquired by employment of children. In the present set up, the major capital resource of our country i.e. Human resources are being depleted surreptitiously.
Bandhua Mukti Morcha has been pressing the Government to abolish the distinction between hazardous and non-hazardous. Any form of child labour at the cost of a child’s education should be made illegal and necessary amendment to child labour (Prohibition and Regulation) act of 1986 be made.
Still another dismal feature is the absence of political will to abolish child labour in any form. Realising this deficiency, BMM had convened a meeting with leaders of the leading political parties in India in February, 1996 and impressed upon them to include this issue in their manifestoes. Some political parties did mention this issue in their manifestoes. Following this, the United Front Government in its Common Minimum Programme (CMP) clearly committed itself for total elimination of all forms of child labour and to make education upto 14 years of age, free and compulsory (1996).
The present trend is to employ children in the place of adults because of the well known advantages of employing the former; namely,children can work for longer hours, say 10 to 14 hours a day without any grumble, they cannot form unions and work for a pittance or no wages, being in debt bondage.