“Child is the father of the man”,”He is the future of tomorrow”, these are the quotes we often hear about children signifying the fact that children are to be loved and taken care of to make this world a better place to live in. With the growing exploitation and the way we are depriving them of their basic rights, the future seems dark and grim. Child labour is one of the worst forms of exploitation. It has been going on since long without being noticed. Asia has 61% of the world’s child labourers. Despite the help offered by few organizations, its largely taken for granted and no substantial effort has been put in this direction to overcome it and give the children of this world a better chance.

Nearly 30% of the population in poor countries are the poorest of the poor who are not able to earn enough for one day’s food. The system of child labour prevails in countries, which are poor or underdeveloped. Nearly 70% of the world’s poor live in Asia alone and the major contribution is made by China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afganistan and Bangladesh. In India alone around 45% of the population is illiterate/semi-illitrate who are not able to find jobs in modern industries.

Article 39 of the Constitution says, it is the duty of the State to see that children of tender age are not forced to work as labourers. But, despite of this constitutional mendate, we see children working in hotels, restaurants, and in hazardous industries. The Central Government also enacted the Commission for protection of Child Rights Act, 2005 against violation of children rights. There is a Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 which prescribes for regulations of conditions of work of children and completely bans the employment of those children who have not completed their fourteenth year, in specific occupations and processes. Though a lot have been done by the Government to eradicate this evil but practically it prevails in abundance despite of the efforts made, India accounts for the second highest number where child labour in the world is concerned. Africa accounts for the highest number of children employed and exploited. While experts blame the system, poverty, illiteracy, adult unemployment; yet the fact is that the entire nation is responsible for every crime against a child. Instead of nipping the problem in the bud, child labour in India was allowed to increase with each passing year. And today, young ones below the age of 14 have become an important part of various industries; at the cost of their innocence, childhood, health and their precious lives.

According to a study, approximately 10 million bonded children labourers are working as domestic servants in India. Beyond this there are almost 55 million bonded child labourers hired across various other industries. According to a recent ILO report about 80% child labourers in India are employed in the agriculture sector. The children are generally sold to the rich moneylenders as a result of non-payment of the borrowed money. Children on the streets work as beggars, they sell various items, instead of being sent to school. According to recent estimates almost 60000 children are employed in the glass and bangle industry and are made to work under extreme conditions of excessive heat. Of the 2,00,000 labour forces in the matchbox industry, experts claim that 35% are children below the age of 14. They are made to work over twelve hours a day, beginning work at 4 am, everyday. According to researchers there are about 50,000 children employed in the brass industry of India and around the same amount in the lock industry.

Exploitation of children in commercial sex trade remains the worst form of child labour in Asia. UNICEF estimates that 1 million children are lured into sex trade in Asia every year, wherein 40% were sold by parents and 15% by their relatives. Traffickers of both children and adults feed largely on the desire of poor families and many young people for economic and personal advancement through migration for work.

The ILO’s international programme for the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has explored many programs to help child labourers. A new ILO study point out that global financial crisis may aggravate child labour, with girls facing increased risks. Declining household income and the family preference for boy’s education force girls bear the double burden of working at home and outside, exposing them to abuse.

In cultures like the one we have in India, in which a higher value is placed on education of male children girls risk being taken out of school, and are then likely to enter the workforce at an early age. The ILO report says the most recent global estimate indicated that more than 100 million girls are involved in child labour, and many are exposed to some of its worst forms.

Girl children are forced to work as domestic servants in third party households and there are regular reports of the abuse of child domestic workers. In their own homes, girls take on household chores to a much greater extent than boys. Combined with economic activity outside the household, this imposes a “double burden” that increases the risk of girls dropping out of school. In many societies girls are in an inferior and vulnerable position and are more likely to lack basic education. This seriously restricts their future opportunities. It is a bitter truth that as long as there is family poverty there will be child labour.

According to UNICEF, there are in estimated 158 million of children aged 5 to 14 in child labour worldwide, excluding child domestic labour. The United Nations and the International Labour Organization consider child labour exploitative, with the UN stipulating, in Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that:

“…..States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”

On November 21, 2005, an Indian NGO activist Junned Khan, with the help of Police, Labour Department and NGO Pratham mounted the country’s biggest ever raid for child labour rescue in the Eastern part of New Delhi. The process resulted in rescue of 480 children from over 100 illegal embroidery factories operating in the crowded slum area of Seelampur. For next few weeks, government, media and NGOs were in frenzy over the exuberant numbers of young bondage. This recue operation opened the eyes of the world to the menace of child labour operating right under the nose of the largest democracy in the world.

In 1997, research indicated that the number of child labourers in the silk-weaving industry in the district of Kanchipuram in India exceeded 40,000. This included children who were bonded labourers to loom owners.

“Fifty years ago it might have been assumed that, just as child labour had declined in the developed world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so it would also, in a trickle-down fashion, in the rest of the world. Its failure to do that, and its re-emergence in the developed world, raise questions about its role in any economy, whether national or global.”

Child labour not only prevents children from acquiring the skills and education they need for a better future, it also perpetuates poverty and affects national economies through losses in competitiveness, productivity and potential income. Withdrawing children from child labour, providing them with education and assisting their families with training and employment opportunities contribute directly to creating decent work for adults.

Child labour is today a subject that has deteriorated in its purpose rather than getting the problem solved, for due realization has not set in. In some families, due to unavoidable reasons children are the only source of income for the entire family. Unless the underlying causes of child labour are addressed, and the rights of children are properly secured, India will remain prone to wide-spread child labour. Child labour is the result of lack of social security, poverty, unemployment and excess population. Unless strict measures are adopted by the international community, child labour can not be eradicated. There should be joint efforts by international societies and local governments to reform and minimise poverty, bring social security in unorganized sectors and curtail excessive growth of population.

The problem of child labour continues to pose a challenge before the nation. Government has been taking various pro-active measures to tackle this problem. However, considering the magnitude and extent of the problem and that it is essentially a socio-economic problem inextricably linked to poverty and illiteracy, it requires concerted efforts from all sections of the society.