If we can’t begin to agree on fundamentals such as the elimination of the most abusive forms of child labour, then we really are not ready to march forward into the future. – Alexis Herman
Children are the most vulnerable human resource that needs love, care, security and protection from the unhealthy social environment which perpetuate several form of exploitation. They are considered as the future citizen of the nation and their proper development must be the utmost priority of the country but unfortunately, child labour engulfs children throughout the world, especially in developing countries. Africa and Asia together account for over 90 percent of total child employment.
In simple words “child labour” means as the work that deprives children of their childhood and interferes with their education by depriving them to attend schools which results in harming their personal development. In our country, although the Constitution of India guarantees free and compulsory education to children between the age of 6 to 14 years and prohibits employment of children younger than 14 in 18 hazardous occupations, child labour is still very much active in various sectors. There is an estimate 246 million child labourers worldwide aged between 7-18 years. Not only in India the problem of child labour continues to be a great concern in other parts of the world as well. Many children are hidden workers working in homes or in the underground economy, the real number of which never comes in the light. Shockingly, 96% of the child workers are in the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and South America. Further, Asia has the highest number of child workers.
For the better development of one’s self, education plays the most important and foremost part but the inadequate government schooling system which exist in most countries especially in developing countries gives poverty stricken families every reason to continue to send their children to work instead of putting them in schools. Poverty is also one of the reason which encourages child labour to a great extent because in many poor families, children have to work to support their families. UNICEF is not opposed to children who are 12 years or above engaging in economic activities as long as such work does not negatively affect their health and development, or interfere with their education. One of the way in which we can try to control child labour is by spreading awareness about the importance of education in children’s life and making education affordable across all levels. Compulsory primary education can be used as the important instrument by which we can remove children from the labour force. Second way which we can adopt to stop this heinous crime is enforcement of anti-child labour laws which are accord with real social processes.
In recent years child labour has led to some extreme form of violence against children, around the entire subject. It is a harm that transpires children resulting from intentional human action. It destroys the child from inside completely and is deleterious to his or her well-being. In addition to this form of violence many innocent children are exposed to physical and sexual abuse in workplace and in their communities. Physical abuse can range from minor injuries to death as a result of beating and hitting. But the worst and the most horrifying form of child abuse is sexual abuse which can result in both short- term and long-term harms including psychopathology in later life. Bonded child labourers are at very high risk for sexual abuse and neglect sometime leading to death. Many working children are the victims of sexual abuse as a result of child labour across the nation. Studies have shown that children who are employed as child labour, lead them to the gateway of sexual abuse as such children are vulnerable because of poverty, illiteracy, lack of support and ineffective implementation of laws, etc. Another big reason is the Innocence of the child that prevents the child from correctly interpreting the acts as abusive and deprives the child of dignity through all the stages of justice process. People who sexually abuse children don’t look or act very differently from most people and contrary to popular belief they behave quite normally. Research shows that more children are abused by adults they know and trust than by strangers. Persons at workplace are known to the children very well and they take benefit of this, they first of all try to win their trust and confidence and then force them to indulge in sexual acts which with time take the form of child sexual exploitation.
The biggest challenge which we pose today is to find out a way in which we can stop this heinous crime against innocent children especially child labourers. Some of these could be:
The media– In the world of today, media has played a paramount role in strengthening the society and influencing the way people think and behave has been proven beyond doubt. Media exposure of these types of core human right violations may through public opinion and anger can deter abusers. They should try to keep on raising such issues before the general public so that this hidden crime comes into the light. It can spread awareness through showing some special programs on child sexual abuse in the field of child labour, can do stint operations to bring this menace into the day light, media reports may extend judicial protection and compensation to the victims and initiate penal action against the abuser. Media and particularly the electronic media if pay some serious attention to this issue then it can really become a very crucial weapon in curbing this problem to a very great extent because when crime hidden causes harm but once it is subjected to exposure it deters and people are afraid to do that act or conduct.
Second way which could be adopted- idea of conducting a series of workshop on the theme of child labour: gateway to child sexual abuse, in cities and especially in backward regions where poor parents force their children to indulge in child labour without knowing the darker truth behind this. In this programmes, parents could be made aware of the consequences of child labour and the menace it leads. Information could be provided on child sexual abuse. They should be made aware of the legal remedies which are available in these cases and some of the legal provisions which are available to children who are victims of sexual violence. Lack of knowledge on the part of the parents about legal remedies creates lot of problems due to which the child abuse victim suffers. So there is a need to properly make parents aware of these rights so that children do not suffer further and this could be done through these workshops.
Third way- proper implementation of law— over years many laws have been implemented to protect the rights of children but they are never followed as we know and as we see. We need both legislation as well as large scale intervention to deal with the increasing incidences of child abuse for which the government has to take some serious step. For this purpose any person or any non-profit organization can initiate an ordinary bill in the house of parliament demanding for a separate bill on child abuse. The process is very hard and even complicated as the bill has to pass many stages before it actually gets approved to reach the floor of parliament. But at least one can try. In addition every state can set up a state commission for the Protection of the rights of the child and formulate plans of action for Child Protection at the district and state level
The problem of child labour and child sexual abuse is like a draconian evil that is harming the society at large. This is a matter of great concern which needs stern attention from all sections of the society as well as from the government which promises a lot but never does anything. Implementation of strict laws on the matter of child sexual abuse at workplace is needed keeping in mind the nature of children along with speedy justice to the victims of this heinous crime. Today there are thousands of cases which go unreported and no. of child labour is in millions which is increasing year after year. But we wish that in near future people who are sitting at the centre as well as the general public should come forward to fight against this great problem. There would be proper laws which would not only be enforced but strictly implemented and followed. Offenders would be punished, victims would get speedy justice. Proper and compulsory education to poor children with none of them working in the fields or some other place.
Let’s hope for a brighter and better future for the children.
 DEWAN V.K, CHILD LABOUR: SOCIA-LEGAL PERSPECTIVE 02. 1ST ed. PENTAGON PRESS 2009
About the Author
Vartika Anand is a third year student pursuing her B.A. LL.B. (Hons) from Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. Being a law student, she is interested in working on human rights issues and enjoys researching and reading on the political history of India. Besides that, she is really passionate about sports, especially cricket, volleyball and badminton. Currently, she is interning with the Model Governance Foundation.