A child is the greatest natural resource of the nation. But everyday millions and millions of children are being commercially exploited for gain either as domestic servants or as labours in hazardous industries. Child labour means employment of a child under a certain specific age which is an illegal act and prohibited by several laws all over the world. Any child who is compelled to earn for his livelihood and for his family is a nothing but exploited as child labour, which is a hazard to his physical and mental development.
Poverty and illiteracy are the main problems that has given rise to this social issue. Often the parents send their children to earn for their livelihood which in turn will add to the total income of the family and thus every year hundreds and thousands of children come from the rural areas to the cities in search of jobs and in turn they are grabbed under the wheels of child labour which is a human right issue and has become a public dispute. Very often the girls turn up to sex workers, beggars or domestic servants and the boys get employment in factories like cracker making, carpet weaving, glass, diamond polishing and match box, some of which are hazardous to their life and health and they are also being exploited by the Employers by getting lower rate of wages.
According to the statistics given by International Labor Organization there are about 218 million children between the age of 5 and 17 working all over the world. The figure excludes domestic labour. As per the child rights charter, an universal definition of "child" includes all persons under the age of 18. It is seen that 40% of India's population is below the age of 18 years which at 400 million is the world's largest child population. India holds the largest number of child labourers in the world today. According to the 2001 Census, in India there were 12.7 million economically active children in the age group of 5 - 14 years.
The problem of child labour has continued to pose a challenge to the nation. Government has taken and still taking various measures to fight against this problem. Way back in 1979, Government formed the first committee called Gurupadswamy Committee to study the issue of child labour and to suggest measures to tackle it. The Committee examined the problem in detail and made some far-reaching recommendations. It observed that as long as poverty continued, it would be difficult to totally eliminate child labour and hence, any attempt to abolish it through legal recourse would not be a practical proposition. The Committee felt that in the circumstances, the only alternative left was, to ban child labour in hazardous areas and to regulate the conditions of work in other areas. It recommended that a multiple policy approach was required in dealing with the problems of working children.
Based on the recommendations of Gurupadaswamy Committee, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was enacted in 1986. The Act prohibits employment of children in certain specified hazardous occupations and processes and regulates the working conditions in others. The list of hazardous occupations and processes is progressively being expanded on the recommendation of Child Labour Technical Advisory Committee constituted under the Act.
The various provisions of the Indian Constitution are as follows:-
• Article 21A of the Indian Constitution says that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age between 6 to 14 years in the same manner as the State may determine by law.
• Article 24 says that no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment
• Article 39-f says that all children shall be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner with freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth shall be protected against moral and material abandonment
• Article 45 says that the State shall provide free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years within a period of 10 years from the commencement of the
Child labour is a matter on which both the Union Government and state governments can legislate. A number of legislative initiatives have been undertaken at both levels. The major national legislative developments include the following:
• The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 : The Act prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in 16 occupations and 65 processes that are hazardous to the children's lives and health
• The Factories Act, 1948 : The Act prohibits employment of children below the age of 14 years. An adolescent aged between 15 and 18 years can be employed in a factory only if he obtains a certificate of fitness from an authorized medical doctor. The Act also prescribes four and half hours of work per day for children aged between 14 and 18 yrs and prohibits their working during nights hours.
• The Mines Act 1952 : The Act prohibits the employment of children below 18 years of age in a mine.
• The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act, 2000 : Section 26 of this Act says that if there is any exploitation of a Juvenile or Child Employee for the purpose of any hazardous employment which withholds his earnings, that act shall be punishable with the imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable for fine.
• The Minimum Wages Act, 1948 : This Act has prescribed minimum wages to all employees in all sectors and thus it is used as a basis to prosecute those employers who are employing children and paying them lower wages.
• The Rights of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 : This Act provided for free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14 years.
• The Bidi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1996 : This Act prohibits employment of children under 14 years of age. • The Motor Transport Workers Act 1961 : Section 21 of this Act says that no child shall be allowed to work in any capacity in any motor transport undertaking.
• The Apprentices Act 1961 : As per this Act no person will be engaged in an apprenticeship training in any trade unless he is not less than 14 years of age and satisfies such standards of education and physical fitness as may be prescribed.
• The Merchant Shipping Act, 1958: Section 109 of this Act says that no person under the age of 15 years shall be engaged or carried to sea to work in any capacity in any ship except in certain other cases as prescribed in the Act.
As per an article in Times of India, it is observed that a close look at the statistics submitted to the Supreme Court make the conclusion irresistible. They show that while between 2007 and 2009, central labour inspectors detected 5,392 instances of violations of the 1986 law, prosecution was launched only in six cases. The period saw only three convictions.
Rights are in reality those needs of an individual which the society approves of and undertakes to see that they are satisfied. They are just children, less than 18, fragile and soft like flowers. They need to be nurtured and loved. They should be taught to read and write and to be independent and to follow their dreams. But in real life things are different. Childhood is a word that doesn't exist in the dictionaries of millions of children.
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