The unheeded cry of children in labour
Sr Regina Mareem
In today’s fast changing world, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Everyone is in need of food, love and care. The rich people own land, a good house, money, power, property etc. from which they make money, whereas the poor have little or no property at all. This is one of the major causes of the growing gap between the “haves and the have-nots”. Among the ‘have-nots’ a major portion is the children in some kind of labour.
Recognizing the enormity of the problem of children in labour, the International Labour Organization (ILO) established the World Day Against Child Labour in 2002. Since then on every June 12th, the day is observed around the world in almost 100 countries. The purpose is to emphasize the need of creating an environment in which children grow and have a decent life combating the menace of child labour across the world. The estimates of the ILO state that there are almost 152 million children working in child labour in the world with 50% of them in hazardous conditions. In ILO terms, Child Labour is "employment that deprives children of their youth, potential, and dignity while also being damaging to their bodily and mental health." Children in labour are denied their right to education and a happy childhood. Poverty being the major cause of children in labour makes children leave school and get into work.
Article 24 of the Indian Constitution states, “No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed in any hazardous employment.” Such an act leads to social, moral and mental harm to the children. Cases of child labor can be found in almost every state or country. It is one of the serious social evils that is to be eradicated. Children in labor are in a very pathetic condition. They are the most neglected and vulnerable group, as they are from very poor famines. Most of them are school dropouts, ignorant and illiterate/semi-literate. They migrate into cities and townships, looking for employment in order to support their family income and in search of livelihood, far away from their parents and relatives, with no legal protection and no trade unions to defend their rights. The dignity, rights and duties of the children are often overlooked and forgotten. They are more considered as a tool rather than as a productive labor force working for the economic wellbeing of the employer’s family. The child labor prohibition and Regulation Act,1986 aims to eradicate any kind of child abuse in the form of employment, prohibit the engagement of children in any of hazardous employment, who have not completed 14 years of age. The Act prohibits the employment of children in certain occupations and processes.
Children in child labor also do domestic work. They render services like washing and cleaning utensils, washing clothes, sweeping, cleaning houses, babysitting etc. Other jobs like working in brickfields, factories and in industries are job areas where children are found to be working. Reason for the choice of work is that the majority of the children leave home because of poverty at home, lack of job, financial constraints, inability to attend regular class, parental pressure, peer pressure and desire for independence from the grip of parental control. At times children are forced to work under bad working conditions and inadequate wages, lack of proper food and minimum health facilities. They are at times physically exploited, sexually abused and mentally harassed. But they are afraid to raise their voice, hide their unshed tears for fear that they would be thrown away without a job. Children are unable to speak and demand their rights for themselves. Children are the future pillars of our society.
As we observe the “World Day against Child Labour”, let us join hands together creating a platform for the voiceless and marginalized children. May they be protected from economic exploitation and trafficking that will do harm to them and their safety, health, physical, mental, moral and social development. As someone rightly said, children should work not in fields but on their dreams. We can hold hands to support the cause of emancipation of children in labour and join together to build a world that is safe and supportive to children where they can grow to maturity as decent and dignified persons.
About the author : Sr Regina Mareem msmhc, Centre for Development Initiative CDI (Coordinator), Manipur Domestic Workers Movement