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article imageChild labor in India: Hidden shame or necessity

By Karen Graham     Feb 7, 2014 in World
A 2011 UNICEF report estimated that in India, 28 million children between the ages of five and 14 were engaged in child labor. Most of these children were not being forced into labor nor being kept as slaves. Work is not an option, but a necessity.
With over 1.2 billion people, India is the second most populous nation in the world, behind China. India has a poverty rate of almost 25 percent, along with over 50 percent of the population being under the age of 25 years old. According to 2009 estimates, one-third of the population is children under the age of 14.
The demographics are important in trying to understand the reason behind the huge numbers of children involved in child labor in India. Most researchers and governmental agencies attribute the numbers to poverty. And poverty in some districts and states in India is very high. Children forgo educational opportunities in favor of making a little money to augment family incomes.
Balancing work and life is difficult in  a population where poverty is a way of life.
Balancing work and life is difficult in a population where poverty is a way of life.
Until 2012, India's Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1987 permitted children under the age of 14 to engage in "non-hazardous industries." (Of course, the act allowed a child of 15 or older to do hazardous work). This act was in direct opposition to the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, which required all children between the ages of 6 and 14 to attend school.
On August 29, 2012, India's Union Cabinet cleared a proposal banning child labor for all children under the age of 14, as well as restricting non-hazardous work to children between the ages of 14 and 18.
According to the new law, anyone employing a child under the age of 14 for any type of work, is guilty of a criminal offense, punishable with imprisonment for up to two years, or a fine of Rs 50,000, or both. Repeat offenders could receive a prison term of three years. But despite the efforts of lawmakers, child labor is still an ongoing issue .
In the international community, children are defined as anyone under the age of 18 years of age. The International Labor Organization's Convention 182, was ratified by all but eight countries, worldwide, and those countries included India and Somalia, among others. The convention banned the "worst forms" of child labor, including hazardous labor for all children under the age of 18. A C Pandey, a joint secretary of the ministry of labor and employment, said "The proposal cleared by the Cabinet to amend the Child Labor Act will ban hazardous work for anyone under the age of 18, allowing India to ratify this convention."
Near the Chandi Chawk metro. If you make only a rupee from the lemon water you sell  you work hard f...
Near the Chandi Chawk metro. If you make only a rupee from the lemon water you sell, you work hard for a living.
Carol Mitchell
The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates 70 percent of child labor in India is in agriculture and related activities. Outside of agriculture, child labor is seen in almost all sectors of the Indian economy, including mining. With girls being a lower priority across the world, including India, the educational opportunities are not as important to a poor family. A large percentage of these girls end up working as domestics or child-care workers. With many children not having birth certificates, it is easy to lie about ones age.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a report on child labor in India. Forced and indentured child labor is still prevalent in India, despite efforts by the federal police to curtail it. According to the report, 1.2 million children are forced into commercial sexual exploitation. Cases of child sex tourism continue to be reported in cities and towns with tourist attractions, as well as in religious pilgrimage centers.
Mahesh Karajgaonkar, living in Nagpur, says despite the changes in the laws, child labor goes on unabated in India. The organization, Right to Education (RTE), has gone so far as to talk with the leaders of many night schools, who have responded positively to working with the RTE to get children working during the day into a school at night.
Street kids in Mumbai  India selling snacks and drinks to bus passengers.
Photograph taken ~22 Sept ...
Street kids in Mumbai, India selling snacks and drinks to bus passengers. Photograph taken ~22 Sept 2003.
This project has failed because most of the children think education is a waste of their time, and would rather work for a miserable wage under horrendous conditions, just to help support themselves and their families. Technically, according to the letter of the law, the Labor Department can prosecute the parents and recruiters for violating the child labor act, but no one appears to be taking it seriously.
Shyamabai Kale has two daughters she takes with her while she works in many people's homes. The daughters wash the utensils and do other light housekeeping jobs with her. She sums up her dilemma by saying, "My husband works in Madhya Pradesh, and I remain alone. I can't leave them at any government school as it involves risk. If they study, when they will learn the work necessary for survival."
More about India, Child labor, Exploitation, Middle class, Legislation
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