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Bangalore, November 2006

Child Labour and Child Rights in India

Poor children in India begin working at a very young and tender age. Many children have to work to help their families and some families expect their children to continue the family business at a young age.

Keywords: | | India

India has all along followed a proactive policy in the matter of tackling the problem of child labour.

India has always stood for constitutional, statutory and developmental measures that are required to eliminate child labour in India. Indian Constitution consciously incorporated relevant provisions in the Constitution to secure compulsory universal elementary education as well as labor protection for children.

Though most children begin working at a young age due to economic reasons, doing so allows them to break from some social constraints.

India’s policy on child labour has evolved over the years against this backdrop. The present regime of laws relating to Child Labor in India have a pragmatic foundation and are consistent with the International Labour Conference resolution of 1979.

The policy of the government is to ban employment of children below the age of fourteen years in factories, mines and hazardous employment and to regulate the working conditions of children in other employment. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 seeks to achieve this basic objective.

Child labour laws in India

Through a notification dated May 26, 1993, the working conditions of children have been regulated in all employment which are not prohibited under the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act. Following up on a preliminary notification issued on October 5, 1993, the government has also prohibited employment of children in occupation processes like abattoirs /slaughter houses, printing, cashewnut descaling and processing, and soldering.

Children perform a variety of jobs: some work in factories, making products such as carpets and matches; others work on plantations, or in the home.

For boys the type of work is very different because they often work long hours doing hard physical labor outside of the home for very small wages.

The government has made efforts to prohibit child labor by enacting Child labor laws in India including the 1986 Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act that stated that children under fourteen years of age could not be employed in hazardous occupations. This act also attempted to regulate working conditions in the jobs that it permitted, and put greater emphasis on health and safety standards.

However, due to cultural and economic factors, these goals remain difficult to meet. For instance, the act does nothing to protect children who perform domestic or unreported labor, which is very common in India. In almost all Indian industries girls are unrecognized laborers because they are seen as helpers and not workers. Therefore, girls are therefore not protected by the law. Children are often exploited and deprived of their rights in India, and until further measures are taken, many Indian children will continue to live in poverty.

India and the Convention of the Rights of the Child

The CRC was adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 20th, 1989 and ratified by India in 1992.

Its significance is that it provides a legal framework to the rights of the child by holding governments accountable. It also has the potential to be an important tool for activists who work for children’s rights and, most importantly, it provides an opportunity and a forum for children to advocate for their rights.

It also places an obligation on the state parties to submit reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the status of the implementation of CRC (Article 44). However, it is silent on the role of children themselves in the process of monitoring the CRC. The exclusion of children from matters that significantly affect their lives is contrary to the spirit of CRC itself. Children’s rights have always existed. But unless they are realized and exercised by children themselves, they remain meaningless.

Child labour activists firmly believe that children can play a significant role in the monitoring the CRC, as rights can be effectively enforced only when the monitoring mechanism includes protagonists themselves, in this case, the children themselves.

The idea is to empower children by creating opportunities for them to participate and influence the process of policy formulations. This was based on their experiences which have proved that children, especially working children, are capable of serious thought, analysis and expression of their own situation ; and that they can very effectively advocate for themselves. The life experiences and tenacity of working children enhances their ability to be sharply critical of the adult world as well as to be more appreciative of its rare finer moments.

Advocacy and Mediation Strategies

We need to understand and incorporate the following insights and principles in our work on child labour and child rights in India:

We need to view the child as protagonist

  • Reclaiming childhood (in terms of the Convention of the Rights of the Child) ;

  • Decision maker (Joyful learning / recreation / leisure).

Need to distinguish between work vs. labour

  • Labour as obstacles to growth and development

  • Work as all that adds to value based education

To eliminate all forms of injustice, discrimination and violence

  • Physical /gender / sexual abuse ;

  • Social ;

  • Emotional / mental.

To provide exposure to out-of-class challenges

To oppose non-tariff barriers on account of child labour

On issues of legal and justiciable matters, the activist’s goal is clear, but the process undeveloped. We hope to invite the following partners for the conference :

  • National Federation of Anganwadi workers and helpers ;

  • CACL ;

  • Child care networks / Childline ;

  • Groups working for legal literacy and awareness.

Advocacy is needed for changing education system.

For example:

  • Vocationalisation of education after 8th standard

  • Promote educational alternatives :

    • a) Documentation ;

    • b) Information exchange ;

    • c) Mainstreaming alternatives ;

    • d) Networking and broad basing, with organisations such as NCERT / SCERTs / AICTE / Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan.

Strategies to be discussed

  • PILs filed by activists in case of rights abuse and child labour ;

  • Studies and Fact Finding Missions (reportage) ;

  • Public hearings / press conferences ;

  • Interact with government-appointed Special Rapporteur (Mr Venugopal) ;

  • Petitions ;

  • Educating Public / Youth / students.