India is the second most populated country in the world with around 1.3 billion inhabitants and the seventh-largest country in terms of size. It is also a prominent figure in the United Nations and other international deliberative assemblies. The country’s top exports include petroleum, medicaments, jewelry, rice and diamonds with major imports consisting of gold, petroleum, coal and diamonds. India’s main trade partners are the United States, Saudi Arabia, China, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While the country wields power as a major partner in worldwide trade and holds the title of the 17th largest export economy, many Indians still struggle to make ends meet. Indian children, in particular, must carry the heavy burden of supplying for their families far more often than any child should. The following are 10 facts on the reality of child labor in India and what the country is doing to improve these children’s quality of life.
10 Facts About Child Labor in India
- Poverty is the main driving cause of child labor in India. There is often an increased reliance on child labor in India due to the need to provide a necessary income contribution to one’s household or out of an obligation to fund a family debt, especially considering the susceptibility of Indian families to enter poverty. In some cases, a child’s income amounts to 25 to 40 percent of a total household income.
- A lack of quality education also causes children—particularly girls—to turn to work. Girls are two times more likely to take on domestic jobs like cleaning, cooking and general housekeeping if out of school. Also, even though India’s 2009 Right to Education Act made education for 6 to 14 year-olds compulsory, it did little to improve the educational infrastructure across all of India. A 2006 survey found that 81,617 school buildings lacked blackboards to display class content on and that around 42,000 state-supported schools conducted classes and academic activities without an actual building.
- Child labor affects 5 to 14 year-olds disproportionately and is present in some of India’s most unsafe industries. Almost 60 percent of all working five to 14-year-olds are located in five of India’s 29 states. The latest available census found that of the 10.1 million children in India between the ages mentioned above, 2.1 million live in Uttar Pradesh, 0.1 million in Bihar, 0.84 million in Rajshahi, 0.7 million in Madhya Perish and 0.72 million in Maharashtra. Around 20.3 percent of Indian children work in hazardous industries such as mining gemstones and construction — even in spite of the existence of laws that are supposed to prohibit this activity in India.
- Indian legal rulings on child labor have brought about unorganized trade, called the informal sector–an area of trade that has little to no regulation on the production of goods. Though it is not the greatest source of GDP growth in India, the informal sector still constitutes 90 percent of the workforce in the country. Because of the nature of child labor and the need to often choose work over education, the majority of child laborers work in this unskilled sector. Government-mandated inspections are infrequent, and employers rarely uphold legal rights for workers and do not enforce minimum wage standards.
- Production work in India can range from seemingly harmless to very harmful. Many children at work in India take part in “bangle-making, stainless-steel production, bidi-making, hotels, and small automobile garages and workshops.” However, some of these workers experience serious health issues as a result of their involvement. One such sector is incense production, which causes respiratory tract problems. The ILO finds that girls are more likely to work in this sector, and as such, are often more susceptible to these health issues.
- A decades-old child labor law in India requires amendments to solve the issue of loopholes. The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 defines a child as a person of 13 years of age or younger. This ruling prohibits children from working or from employers putting them to work. Adolescents are of age 14 or older, and may work in unhazardous occupations. The law, however, does not outline all types of work that can become unsafe after an extended period. The penalties for violating this rule are also not enough to encourage employers to move away from adolescent work.
- Maintaining child labor in India is detrimental to the country’s economy. Investing time and funding in children’s education upfront might feel like an economically unwise choice, but in the words of Frans Roeselaers, ILO International Programme director on the Elimination of Child Labour, “ [childhood education investment] gives enormous, almost astronomical returns in terms of both productivity and increased wages once the child grows up and becomes a worker.” Not only do companies benefit from more educated workers, but individual households will also experience an improved quality of life thanks to the higher salaries of the jobs more educated people can obtain. As a result, the government would also benefit from those higher salaries in the form of greater tax returns.
- India has made or is in the process of making various efforts to establish institutional unity and solve the child labor crisis. The state of Andhra Pradesh, India is working on an economic model that would eliminate the need for child labor and urge other Indian states to follow suit or use as its example as inspiration for similar approaches. The Universal Alliance of Diamond Workers (UADW) is working to establish the involvement of children in the gemstone industry as unsuitable in many respects. Also, the M. Venkatarangaiah Foundation in India has strategized different and adaptable approaches to “prevent early drop-out and involvement in child labor, by motivating parents, easing enrolment problems and bridging the gap between home and school.” The initiative utilizes groups of government teachers, officials elected to represent their community at a higher governmental level and other community members who have counsel to provide based on experience and observation. As this effort grew in acceptance and implementation, 85 villages rid their industries and establishments of any opportunity to utilize child labor.
- Recent updates to rules on child labor in India have resulted in improvement. As of 2017, the Indian government moved to ratify both ILO Convention 182 and Convention 138–two improved standards of labor laws that the country hopes to introduce as status quo in years to come. India’s leaders also devised a new National Plan of Action for Children that establishes the National Policy for Children. This policy focuses on helping improve the conditions and tolerance for continued child labor and child trafficking.
- There are several organizations already working to address India’s child labor crisis specifically. Groups like CHILDLINE India Foundation, Save The Children India and SOS Childen’s Villages India are all working to combat child labor in India.
Although India has a long way to go to eradicate child labor, it is making serious steps towards its goal. The help of various NGOs and the improvement of existing laws should help reduce child labor in India.
– Fatemeh-Zahra Yarali