CHILD LABOUR- TACKLING THE PROBLEM
Updated: Jan 9
Author: Roshni Agarwal, II year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Amity Law School Noida (ALSN)
Child labour and poverty are inevitably bound together, and if you continue to use the labour of children as the treatment for the social disease of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labour to the end of time.
What is Child Labour?
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines child labour as work that deprives children of their childhood, potential and dignity, and is harmful to their physical and mental development. It refers to the work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children, or work whose schedule interferes with their ability to attend regular school, or work that affects in any manner their ability to focus during school or experience a healthy childhood.
World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June
Child Labour- an ILO and UNICEF Report (Published on 10th June, 2021)
Cobalt is a mineral essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that powers smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles. The mobile phones which we enjoy contains this mineral cobalt which is extracted from mines by children. It is all mined by use of child labour or child slavery.
According to UNICEF, more than 40,000 children work in mines extracting cobalt that powers the batteries of mobile phones and other electronic devices. The toxic dust of the mines is lost in the dazzle and shimmer of the shops.
It is reported by Amnesty International that children handpick cobalt ore and carry it on their backs as they risk their way out of narrow, collapse-prone, dark tunnels. Whether going into the precarious holes or sifting through rubble, often without protective gear, children get laceration (a deep cut or tear in the skin) and injuries. They inhale harmful dust making them prone to lung disorders. The working hours are long; the breaks are rare.
According to the International LabourOrganisation (ILO), around one million children work in various mines throughout the world. UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund or just the United Nations Children’s Fund) estimates that approximately 20% of mine workers are children. They undergo exploitation and are exposed to life threatening chemicals and gases. Children in gold mines get exposed to mercury which is highly toxic.
The ingredient that makes our skin products and nail polishes glister is mica. Mica mines employ children, reportedly, as young as five years old. Horrifyingly, this is because their hands are small enough to fit into the crevices where mica is found.
India is the world’s largest producer of mica, which is used in cosmetics and paint production, accounting for 60% of the global production. Mining for the makeup industry’s “darkest kept secret” steals the childhood of 20,000 children.
Millions of children are engaged in extreme forms of labour, defined by UN as work which is unacceptable for children. Of this, nearly 70% work in hazardous conditions involving chemicals, pesticides or dangerous machinery. Scores are forced into trafficking, debt bondage and slavery.
Asia-Pacific region harbours the largest number of child workers estimating 127.3 million, while sub Saharan Africa has an estimated 48 million of child workers.
The joint report released by ILO and UNICEF on June 10, 2021 titled “Child Labour: Global Estimates 2020, Trends and the Road Forward” warns that child labour has risen to 160 million (or 16 crore), accounting for almost 1 in 10 children worldwide- an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years. The report also points out that as economies grapple with COVID-19 and, as a result of it, with increased unemployement and rising poverty, they are exepected to push millions more into child labour.
COVID-19 has had a very bad impact on the economies of countries. More than 23 crore people who were of middle class have now come to below poverty line. Several of the millions of people have lost jobs. A direct effect of all this would be seen on child labour. Children who have not been able to take education in the last two years would be falling out of the education system and would be joining the child labour force.
MNCs behind the scene
It is not only the unorganised sector that uses child labour, as is commonly perceived. Big brands and corporate houses, often known for their lofty ideals and principles, too have a questionable role.
Wal-Mart was fined by the US Department of Labour in 2012 for making children work on dangerous machinery. This fine was believed to be the largest ever levied by the State for child labour. Several leading sportswear brands have been accused of using child labour according to Reuters. It is possible that an expensive pair of shoes brought by you from such brands would be made by a child of about 10-13 years in somewhere in Thailand or Bangladesh after working for approximately 14 hours without any breaks.
Multi-national Companies (MNCs) are making use of hazardous forms of child labour in cotton seed production, according to ILO. Children are hired as their small hands help in cross pollination to produce hybrid seeds. They are exposed to poisonous pesticides in the course of their work.
‘The Guardian’ reports that about 1.56 million children work under hazardous conditions in cocoa prodction. These children have probably never had the opportunity to taste the chocolates made from their produce.
Several automobile manufacturers, such as Volkwagen and Daimler AG use components coming from units that employ children. Companies claim that it is difficult to verify such information due to the high complexity of automative supply chains, which, is not wrong. If you would read about it, you would understand that their supply chains are actually very complicated and it is quite difficult to verify such information, though not impossible. It, to be done, requires a will. Major tobacco companies have been implicated in child labour, according to WHO.
Companies often exercise a policy of turning a blind eye to these realities. Big MNCs, that so vehemently espouse social responsibility, must know these details. Their supply chains are tainted by child labour. Corporates need to take greater responsibility by refusing to employ children or accepting goods from sub-contractors who do so.
Extreme poverty, illiteracy and ineffective enforcement of laws force children to work. Firms are incentivised to employ children due to low wages. On an average, a child earns 55% less than an adult. Children serve as a readily available pool for labour intensive, low skill jobs.
Employers prefer children due to their submissive behaviour. Children perform out of fear of being abused. Many employers prefer children due to complete absence of labour unrest or disturbances like disputes, protests, strikes, unionisation, etc. In general, the overall contribution of child labour in developing countries is so substantial that stopping it would actually harm the economy and therefore, the issue is often systematically overlooked.
Thus, elimination of child labour requires concerted efforts from government, corporates, NGOs, activists, psychologists and educators. It mandates putting in place concomitant rehabilitation system along with sensitization and education of child workers and their families. Otherwise, child workers who are stopped from working will end up in anti-social acts.
Consumers too have a responsibility. People remain wilfully ignorant because information about ethical attributes of a product can be laden with negative emotions and guilt. Choosing to remain ignorant is a very normal coping mechanism. More diligence is needed to check the abuses of human rights involved in the manufacturing and sourcing of products.
Articles related to Child Labour in the Constitution of India[i]
1. Article 24: Prohibition of employment of children in factories
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. (Fundamental Right)
2. Article 39
(e)The State shall direct its policy towards securing that the health and strength of workers,men and women and the tender age of children are not abused, and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter vocations unsuitable to their area and strength.
(f) Children shall be given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and conditions of freedom and dignity, and that their childhood and youth shall be protected against moral and material abandonment.
3. Article 45
The State shall endeavor to provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years. Provision for early childhood care and education to children below the age of six years added by 86th Amendment Act of 2002. (Directive Principle of State Policy)
4. Article 21A: Right to education
Added by 86th Amendment Act, 2002. The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6 to 14 years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine. (Fundamental Right) Right to education includes right to safe education. (Avinash Mehrotra v. Union of India[ii])
National Legislations addressing the issue of child labour in India
1. The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986[iii]:
(23rd December, 1986)
Based on the recommendations of the Gurupadswammy Committee 1979. It has the following objectives:
(i) To prohibit the engagement of children in certain employment.
(ii) To regulate the conditions of work of children in certain other employments
The act defines a child as any person who has not completed his/her fourteenth year of age.
2. Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016[iv]
(29th July, 2016)
This Act proibited the engagement of children in all occupations and of adolescents in hazardous occupationas and processes. Adolescents refer to those under 18 years and children to those under 14 years of age. It also imposes a fine on anyone who employs or permits children to work.
3. National Policy on Child Labour, 1987
It focuses more on rehabilitation of children working in hazardous occupations and processes, rather than on prevention of child labour.
The policy consists of three main attributes:
(i) Legal Action Plan
Emphasis will be laid on strict and effective enforcement of legal provisions relating to children under various labour laws.
(ii) Focusing on general development programmes
Utilisation of various on-going development programmes of other Ministries/Departments for the benefit of child labour wherever possible.
(iii) Project based plan of action
Launching of projects for the welfare of working children in areas of high concentration of child labour.
1. Government should take proper effective steps to reduce population and give employment to parents of child workers. Control on population growth will reduce poverty which is the basic cause of child labour.
2. Necessary practical steps to be taken to educate the children as enshrined in the Constitution of India.Compulsory education can help in eradicating the problem of child labour to a large extent. Statistics also show that education has helped in reducing child labour in western countries up to a large extent.
3. Provide necessary funds to the organizations working for education of children and removal of child labour like the NGOs as they all have a big role to play in this regard.
4. There should be effective implementation of child protection laws and not overlooked as explained above.
5. Necessary prosecution of child labour defaulters and stricter punishment for those who employ or encourage child labour.
6. Organizing literacy and awareness programmes to prevent children from employment. Awareness raising and mobilization of families and communities against the exploitation of children.
7. Amendment and modification in Social Security Legislation governing child labour.
8. Adequate health services for children at large.
9. Training and education of child workers during their free time.
10. Social protection programmes and cash transfers to improve the economic situation of families so that the need to send children to work is reduced.
11. Every family should earn a decent living and do good saving for the future of its children so that they (the children) can get a decent life and education. It will be very helpful for their children and then people will not need to send their children to work.
12. Each industrial company and organisation should increase the employment opportunities for adult workers and replace child labour with them. Co-ordinated action is required among the government departments to combat the problem of child labour.
According to the InternationLabourOrganisation, there are tremendous benefits for developing nations like India by sending children to school instead of work. But, without education, children do not gain the necessary skills that will increase their productivity to enable them to secure higher skilled jobs in the future with higher wages that will lift them out of poverty. Children who work do not get proper education. Also, their physical, emotional, intellectual and psychological development gets hindered. Therefore, children, who work, instead of going to school, will remain illiterate and this would hinder quality human capital formation.
[i]Available at https://legislative.gov.in (last accessed on 31/07/2021) [ii] 2009 SCC OnLine SC 751 [iii] Available at https://labour.gov.in (last accessed on 31/07/2021) [iv] Available at https://pencil.gov.in (last accessed on 31/07/2021)