International Labour Organisation director general Guy Ryder says that ‘social protection’ is one of the most powerful measures to prevent child labour. The year 2022 saw large-scale activism for elimination of child labour from international to national-level initiatives. The Government of South Africa hosted the 5th global conference on the elimination of child labour. It came at a time when about 160 million children are still employed as child labour, and the numbers are rising amid the Covid 19 pandemic which threatens to reverse years of progress. The 5th global conference came up with a policy document titled as “The Durban call to action on the elimination of child labour”. The document emphasises the need for urgent action to end child labour. Ensuring universal access to social protection is an integral part of the Durban call to action. The other key highlights of the Durban action plan are:
1. Respecting children’s capacity to form their own views and to participate and express those views freely in all matters affecting them.
2. Implementing the right of a child to education and then enjoyment of the highest standard of health as well as protection from all forms of violence.
3. End child labour in agriculture.
4. Achieve universal access to social protection.
World Day Against Child Labour:
12th June is celebrated as the World Day Against Child Labour, and the theme for 2022 is “Universal social protection to end child labour”. It came days after the global conference on the elimination of child labour, which also emphasised on social protection as a tool to end child labour. Social protection is both a human right and a potent policy tool to prevent families from resorting to child labour. Nearly 1.6 billion children in the world lack social protection.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights observed elimination of child labour week in different districts starting from 12th June to 20th June 2022 as an initiative to pay attention to the problem of child labour and find ways to eradicate it.
Who is a child?
A child as defined by the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act as a person who has not completed the age of 14 years. According to the ILO, child labour is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential, and their dignity, and is harmful to their physical and mental development. According to the 2011 census, there are more than 10.5 million “economically active” children in the age group of 5 to 14.
There are a number of laws both at international and national level which deal with child labour and its eradication. The Declaration of Rights of Child, 1959, Article 25 says that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance. Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, completely prohibits the employment of children below 14 years, prohibits the employment of adolescents in the age group of 14 to 18 years in hazardous occupations, and processes and regulates their working conditions where they are not prohibited. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act includes the working child in the category of children in need of care and protection without any limitation of age or type of occupation. The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, made it mandatory for the state to ensure that all children aged six to 14 years are in school and receive free education.
Despite these legislations and protection mechanisms, as per Census 2011 India still has 10.1 million children engaged in child labour. 6.5 million children in India in the age group of 5 to 14 years work in agriculture and household industry. As per 2011 Census, 1 in 11 children are working in India (5-18 years). As per ILO 2016 data, there are 152 million working children in the world between 5-17 years, of which 23.8 million children are in India. So, 16% of the working children (or every 6th working child) in this age group is in India. According to an analysis of the Census data by CRY (Child Rights and You), about 1.4 million child labourers in India in the age group of 7-14 years can’t write their name.
Child labour is prevalent around us. We see children begging in streets, working in dhabas and hotels, we see children involved in agriculture. Migrant workers and their children are either out of schools or involved in family work or working as child labour. The children of nomadic people of J&K often do not attend school and work as child labour. The main cause for all this is lack of social protection. The emphasis laid by the Durban action plan and by the International Labour Organisation is on universal social protection. Be it migrant workers or children begging on the streets, or be it children involved in agriculture labour, the cause is poverty and lack of social protection.
The implementation of laws remains a distant dream. Child begging is rampant and children who should be in schools are working to earn. The need of the hour is social protection for children, so that we can change their life for the better. The Durban action plan needs implementation. Awareness and ill effects of child labour must be brought before the stakeholders. Community involvement in the eradication of child labour can help eradicate the curse of child labour.
The writer is an advocate practicing at Jammu and Kashmir High Court. [email protected]