Zeeshan Rasool Khan
The United Nations defines child labour as work which deprives children of their childhood, their dignity, and potential, and that is harmful to their physical and mental health. It refers to the work that interferes with the schooling of the children and becomes a drag on their overall development. Child labour started with the onset of the Industrial Revolution in Britain in the late 18th century which led to a rapid increase in the industrial exploitation of labour, including child labour. The immigration of Irish immigrants to the United States due to the Irish potato famine of 1845, also called as the great hunger, added to the availability of cheap labour. A lot has changed since then but child labour still continues in the world. It is detrimental not only to a particular family but to the entire society. Today’s children are tomorrow’s future. Child labour exposes vulnerable kids to an environment that inflicts sufferings on their physical and mental health. The difficulty of tasks, poor working conditions, and maltreatment from superiors creates a plethora of problems, such as premature aging, malnutrition, depression, drug dependency, physical and sexual violence, apart from stripping them of educational rights. It is a brazen violation of their rights. It denies them the opportunity to reach their full potential and is a total waste of human resources. It can heighten illiteracy, unemployment, and trigger many other social problems.
The murder of child Zohra Shah in Pakistan and the death of Indian girl Jamlo Makdam underscore the problems with child labour. The 8-year-old domestic worker Zohra Shah was tortured to death by a couple for mistakenly freeing expensive parrots from the cage. Jamlo Makdam, a 12 year old Indian farm worker, died of dehydration and exhaustion during a 100-km trek home following the coronavirus lockdown. Her death is different from those of other migrant deaths because the girl was a child labour.
According to estimates of the International labour Organisation (ILO) there are 152 million children worldwide in child labour and about 72 million of them are in hazardous work. Even though India and Pakistan have made encouraging progress in recent years in curbing this problem, child labour is still a gruesome reality. There are many areas where children are being employed as labourers. In the subcontinent, children used to work on farms but they are now moving to non-farm jobs. The garment industry, brick kilns, sugarcane, tobacco industries, etc, have a huge number of child workers.
Child labour is an outcome of many socio-economic issues, such as poverty, illiteracy, and human trafficking. Due to poverty, coupled with illiteracy, parents force their children to work instead of enrolling them in school. In quest of increasing family income, parents encourage child labour. Out of ignorance they believe that educating children means spending money while making them work means earning money. Least they understand that child labour does not reduce but amplifies poverty because the children who are forced to sacrifice education for work are doomed to low-wage jobs throughout their lives. Child rights activist and noble laureate Kailash Satyarthi rightly points out that ‘Child labour perpetuates poverty’. We cannot close eyes to the reality that poverty and child labour are interconnected, and that the latter is not the solution to the former.
Human trafficking is another major cause of child labour. According to the Trafficking Protocol, child trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, harbouring, transfer, or receipt of children for exploitation. According to ILO estimation, about 1.2 million children are trafficked every year for sexual exploitation and child labour. India has a high volume of child trafficking. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, one child disappears every eight minutes in India. These children are mainly trafficked for begging, sexual exploitation, and child labour.
In every country, laws have been laid down against child labour. However, due to one or the other reasons, child labour has not reduced as expected. Experts are of the view that loopholes in the Indian labour law result in its failure as it allows children under 14 to work in “family enterprises”, which is abused under different names. In some parts of the world like Pakistan, laws are completely ignored.
To break the spine of this problem, a multi-pronged approach is required. The onus lies on government authorities to make sure that poverty does not drive children into labour. Fatherless children are left with no choice other than working to bring home the bacon. Proper care of them is necessary to stop them from ruin. NGOs and responsible citizens have a vital role. Stringent laws should be passed and effectively implemented. Creating awareness about child rights and the importance of education is a must. The prime targets should be parents. Educating less-educated or illiterate parents about the drawbacks of child labour can be productive in fighting this scourge. Motivating parents to send children to school can bring the menace of child labour under control. Last but not least, activists, media persons, civil society, non-government organisations, in fact, people from all walks of life need to unite against the issue so that our children can have a prosperous life. Let us vow on this World Day Against Child Labour (12 June) to strive at every level for protection of child rights.