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Total ban on child labour up to age of 14 will gel with Right to Education, says Kailash Satyarthi

Total ban on child labour up to age of 14 will gel with Right to Education, says Kailash Satyarthi

Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi explains the connection between child labour, black money and adult unemployment to Business Today.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi

Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi explains the connection between child labour, black money and adult unemployment to Business Today. 

BT: What is the number of child labourers in India?

Satyarthi: There is no authentic figure of child labourers in India. Figures coming from the government sources are based on a sample survey. There are three different estimates: Sample survey (4.8 million) UNESCO (22 million), civil society (50 million). It varies from 5-50 million. Practical experience has shown that workshops, small-scale industries, cottage industries where supply chains are long, garments, agriculture, leather goods....more children are engaged in them.

BT: How is employment of children against the overall economic growth?

Satyarthi: Child labour is not just an humanitarian issue, it is an economic issue. When we look at the big picture globally...168 million children are in full-time jobs and 200 million adults are jobless. And the biggest irony is that these children who are working in full-time jobs are the sons and daughters of parents who are not given jobs for more than 100 days a year. So it becomes a vicious circle, where parents remain jobless or underemployed and underpaid and their children are forced to work. This correlation between child labour and adult unemployment has been researched in many countries. Therefore unemployment of adults, where the human resources are not fully tapped for economy, is against economic growth. Children are the cheapest form of labour. Sometimes, bonded labour, almost free labour is good for the greedy employer, but it is against the economy.

BT: What is the connection between child labour and black money?

Satyarthi: Children are the cheapest form of labour. In their records, no employer shows that they are employing children. All employers, in their books, show that they are paying minimum wages to adults. Manufacturers calculate their expenses in such a way that 30 to 60 per cent is shown as labour cost in overall production cost, and most of this money becomes black money. This black money is generated at the source level, where production takes place through outsourced work or under reporting. This money seldom comes into circulation, remains untaxed and fuels a parallel black money economy. Child labour, child trafficking, child prostitution... these crimes against children are amongst the biggest source of black money generation in India and the world. And this black money is in turn used to bribe local officials, politicians, labour inspectors. This again hampers the economy.

BT: What will be the size of this child labour-generated black money economy?

Satyarthi: There are no exact estimates. But our studies point out that on an average there are 200 working days. India has six crore child labourers who work at an average cost of Rs 15 per child per day, amounting to Rs 18,000 crore in a year. If these six crore child labourers are substituted with six crore adult labourers, the dynamics will completely change as adult labour would make at least Rs 115 per day, which would amount to Rs 1,38,000 crore. This difference of Rs 1,20,000 crore is black money. If adults are paid the minimum daily wage, then there will be no need for children to work. As adults will be well compensated, their spending power will go up and it will give a fillip to the economy. If minimum wages to adults are ascertained the economy and market will be more dynamic.

BT: What's your take on the new Amendment? Given that most of the children are working in homes and not factories, will a under-14 ban help anyway?

Satyarthi: We have to see the Amendment in a broader perspective. One is total ban of child labour up to the age of 14. It will gel well with RTE. Another is ban up to 18 years in hazardous occupations. One has to look at it in a holistic manner. Everybody has to be responsible in making the law work. Civil society, business; no law can change the society. It is the society that changes the law. We have to build a strong, active and vigilant society. We should also refuse to accept any form of child labour. Only then will the law work.

BT: Do we have the mechanism to monitor if a child is helping or working at home? There is a thin line between the two.

Satyarthi: Mechanism is a major area. You cannot depute policemen everywhere and that's why society has to be responsible to check the evils. No government alone in the world can check it. It has to come from public conscious. Law is a tool. We can make it more stringent, accountable, deterrent. Eventually the society, business, consumer should take responsibility.