Childhood is much like spring, the blooming phase of a human being’s life. It is a phase when we are carefree and when we can indulge in acts of fun and leisure without worrying about the experiences of the upcoming future.
But do we ever stop to contemplate what kind of a childhood or childhood memories we would have had, had the knowledge of the often ‘untoward’ future incidents gripped us back then? The answer, I’m sure is ‘No’.
It never crosses our mind and besides, it’s a proposition tough to imagine but it’s a reality for many children, who are forced to succumb to the exploitations of child labour. It is one of the most heinous violations of human rights existing in our society even today.
Moreover, this violation is very common in the Indian city of joy – Kolkata. Much ironical to its title, this city has no joy to offer to those children who toil day and night to earn just a handful of rice to survive. So much so, that even the innocence glow of childhood fails to illuminate the lives of these children. They miss the nitty-gritties associated with the process of growing up and as a result, the transition from a child to an adult, often comes without the slightest of notice.
One of the most common reasons for this is the grinding poverty which abounds in the city. It makes the families of these children unable to provide even a roof over their heads. Therefore, they rely on their own children to fulfill the basic needs of life. In fact, their basic need just stops at earning a handful of rice to feed their stomachs.
Overpopulation is another factor contributed to the extremity of the situation. Illiterate parents add to this exploitation because they are unfamiliar with and so, least bothered about the physical, emotional and cognitive development of a child and also these parents are unaware of the fact that lack of education will lead their child ’s future only to the dungeons of sorrow and miseries. In most cases, the child is forced to work due to unemployment of the elders because of some physical disability or on account of the parent being a single parent,especially in cases of single mothers or alcoholic fathers.Orphans, by default, are left with no other option but to work because of the lack of elderly and important support of guardians.
One of the root causes of child labour is the willing exploitation from the factory owners, industries, small tea shacks, and shops where maximum numbers of cases of child labour are tracked. These owners exploit the children as not only do little children offer them services at a much cheaper rate than adults, but also because children have to be fed much less than an adult worker. Also these children won’t protest or form a union against the owners or fight back on being physically abused. These innocent facts about these children make them prone to the exploits from these notorious businessmen.
Due to so many limiting factors the lives of these innocent children take a turn for the worst. In a phase of life where they are supposed to study, grow mentally, spiritually, psychologically and physically, their very right to education is betrayed and consequently their future becomes anything but bright. The child is thus condemned to a life of unskilled, badly paid work and ultimately the vicious circle entraps them, shelling out generations after generations of poor children under cutting wages.
In many cases children are handling hazardous substances specially hose working in factories and due to that they become prone to chronic health diseases. Immigrant child labourers have more to face as they become victims of sexual exploitation too, majority of them being girls. The most glaring example being the red light area in Shobha bazaar where sexual exploitation of the girl child is in abundance and little boys begging around the signal is common sight that greets you. Not only in Shobha bazaar but the situation around Sealdah station is also similar. Suraj, a boy of 12 was seen polishing shoes of the travellers at the station.On being asked, he said he was doing this since the age of ten, since when his father died. His mother being psychologically ill can’t work.
As we move more far towards Barasaat region a family consisting of a father, mother and two sons were seen picking plastics, which they then sold to feed their stomachs. These are just a few instances seen around but on a macro level, there are thousands of Surajs who either start working at a very tender and impressionable age or beg around to sustain their lives.
There are specific clauses in the draft of Indian constitution dated 26 January 1950, about the child labour policy in India. They fall under different articles in the fundamental rights and the directive principles of the state policy. They lay down four specific policy rules regarding child labor.
The main legislative measures at the national level are the Child Labor Prohibition and Regulation Act -1986 and the Factories Act -1948. The first act was categorical in prohibiting the employment of children below fourteen years of age, and identified 57 processes and 13 occupations, which were considered dangerous to the health and lives of children. The details of these occupations and processes are listed in the schedule to the said act.
The Factories Act again prohibits the employment of children less than fourteen years of age. However, an adolescent aged between 15 and 18 can be recruited for factory employment only after securing a fitness certificate from an authorized medical practitioner. The act proceeds to prescribe only four hour’s work period per day for children between 14 and 18 years. Children are also not allowed to work in night shifts.
Moreover, in the year 1996 the Supreme Court of India came out with a judgment in court that directed the state and union government to make a list of all children embroiled in hazardous occupations and processes. They were then told to pull them out of work and asked to provide them with proper and quality education. The judiciary also laid down that child labor and welfare fund beset up. The contribution for this was to be received from the employers who contravened the Child Labor Act.
India is also a signatory to the UN convention on the rights of the child, ILO Abolition of Forced Convention – no 105 and ILO Forced Labor Convention – no. 29. A national labor policy was also adopted in the year 1987 in accordance with India’s development strategies and aims. The national policy was designed to reinforce the directive principles of state policy in the Indian constitution.
In spite of so many initiatives from the state government as well as the union government, the existing scenario of child exploitation through child labor is still the same. Despite so many projects undertaken by the government, offering proper and quality education, supplementary meals etc, and the reality is unchanged.
Why are so many children still devoid of their basic rights? Why is the future of these children hooded under the canopy of misery and exploitation?
The questions are infinite but answers are none. Children are innocent and do not know their rights so if the government does not take a strict initiative for the proper education of these little ones, the problem will never perish and continue to effect generations after generations.
The disparity between educated and illiterate will never reduce, how can we then expect the economy of the country to swell? This developing country can never be developed if attention is not paid to strengthening the foundation.