The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition) Act 1986, proposes a blanket ban on employing children under 14 years in any sort of work, not even in non-hazardous environments. It will be of help in enforing the Right to Education Act, 2009 which mandates free and compulsory education to all children in the age group of 6-14 years.
Child friendly policies and strong legislations to protect the rights of children are the outcome of a long-drawn demand. Organisations like Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) and Global March Against Child Labour have followed more than a decade of sustained efforts to pursue complete abolition of child labour in India.
But how much effective the legislations will be until they are put into practice? Child labor and poverty are inevitably two sides of the same coin, and if you continue to use the labor of children as a treatment for the social disease of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labor to the end of time. The poor section of people send their children to work in the houses of wealthy people to save their children from starvation and death. The entire social system needs a revamping before imposing the complete ban on child labour. Where is the effective rehabilitation for the rescued children? Without a proper rehabilitation package eradication of child labour is next to impossible. The police and the labour commission are often found to pass the buck between themselves in rescuing the child. Once the child is rescued and proper care is not taken, the rescued child will again be forced to go for work. For bringing real social change collaborative effort on the part of gram panchayats and school managements on the one hand and the police administration on the other is necessary.
Widespread child and adolescent labour contributes to high illiteracy in India. Children are employed in a wide range of jobs such as carpet weaving, mining, ciggarette manufacturing and gem polishing, often in extremely unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Poor parents want their children to contribute to the family income rather than attending a school. The state of child and adolescent labour in India is very similar to the situation that prevailed in the Western countries 100 years ago. The compulsory school education exists, though on paper only, the ambience is not at all friendly. There should be focus on developing knowledge and skills for adult work rather than entering the workplace at an early age.
UNICEF is committed to protecting every child from violence, exploitation, abuse and discrimination. But given prevailing social, economic and cultural inequalities in India, a large number of children, especially girls are forced to work in inhospitable, unsafe and exploitative conditions. Some of these children are members of families living in remote areas with few, if any livelihood options. Others are part of units that are on the move- caught up in unrelenting cycles of migration in search of work. Most from disadvantaged communities are trafficked for the purposes of early, forced marriages, for domestic labour and for commercial sex work. Yet other children live in single parent households where survival is at times formidable struggle.
In partnership with the government, UNICEF plays a key role in promoting an approach that focuses more on prevention rather that only relief and rehabilitation of children in need of special protection. One of its primary strategies consists of using education as a tool to tackle issues surrounding child labour. But even UNICEF cannot ensure the necessary protection to children. After all, despite the economic advantage to firms that employ child labor, it was in the social interest, as a national policy to abolish it - removing that advantage for all firms. We must ensure that while eliminating child labor in the export industry, we are also eliminating their labour from the informal sector, which is more invisible to public scrutiny - and thus leaves the children more open to abuse and exploitation.