Nishit Kumar, Head, Strategic Initiatives at Childline India Foundation talks to Sarika Malhotra of Business Today about tackling and defining child labour.
Q.As per your experience, what are your estimates of child labour in the country...is it more than what has been captured in the Census?
A.The Census definition is based on child labour being defined as under 14 children primarily occupied in working and not at school. The figure indicated by Census is not a true reflection of the scale of child labour in India. This is because: Census does not indicate children who may be reported as school going but are actually working on agricultural farms; Census does not report children doing work as domestic servants; Census does not cover children working with parents/relatives in family-owned cottage sector-even if they are registered in schools; Census is a door-to-door household survey and does not take into account children registered as going to school but who are actually engaged in work. Similarly, children who have run away or been trafficked and who find themselves living on streets of large urban cities are not enumerated. Our estimates of child labour in the country would close to about three times the figure reported in Census. Our view is that since the RTE is in existence , any child below 14 who works -whether in hazardous industry or otherwise-is a child labourer and violates the Right to Education (RTE). The RTE guarantees free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14. Hence any child who works, even in industries /processes declared non-hazardous, is a child labourer.
Q.What's your take on the current law on child labour?
A.In 1979, the Government-appointed Gurupadaswamy Committee studied the issue of child labour and observed that as long as poverty continued, it would be difficult to totally eliminate child labour. Hence, any attempt to abolish it through legal recourse would not be a practical proposition. The Committee recommended a ban on child labour in hazardous areas and a multiple policy to deal with the problems of working children. Based on the recommendations of Gurupadaswamy Committee, the Child Labour (Prohibition & 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.
Q.Will a complete ban on child labour help?
A.The time has come to decide who is a child in India. The JJ Act says below 18, so does GAWA, Motor Vehicle Act, Marriage Acts, Election Commission, etc. However for child labour we still maintain the age of 14. Prior to the Child Labour ( Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, the commission that was setup recognised the incidence of poor children working for a livelihood. But that was in 1986. Since then India has become a significant world economic power with top five rank in GDP/Eco growth/ etc. Shouldn't India's growth reflect in the status of her children? Children complete Class 10 by the age of 15. All children up to 15 must never have to work for a living in any kind of work. At best, children above 14 can be allowed to do apprenticeships during school breaks. Children above 15 and up to 18 should not be allowed to work in any hazardous industry or process. Children who work in films/entertainment/pro-sports and such fields should be allowed to work under strict regulation. Census shows that a bulk of 15-19 yr olds have not completed 10th. So they have been in the workforce before they turned 18.
Q.Can the use of child labour in the unorganised space be monitored? What can be done to monitor it?
A.As far as cottage sector/unorganised sector goes, voluntary compliance of social labelling must be encouraged. Retail sector must be made accountable for sales of products without social labelling. For sectors which make products /services under some regulatory body (shops and establishments act and the like) automatic de-registration upon using child labour must be enforced. All poverty alleviation programs, including MNREGA must be conditional to no child labour in the family is being supported. Children of BPL families must be provided for up to 18 by the state, if the wage earner in the family is not able to support children.
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