What Is Child Labour?
“Child labour” is defined in various ways in different contexts. At MV Foundation, a “child labourer” is any child who is out-of-school, regardless of the nature or status of employment. Like the root of a tree, childhood lays the foundation for a person’s life. It is a period of learning and development, when children gather valuable skills to use through the years. Depriving a child of the opportunity to study and a healthy environment to grow in is a recipe for disaster.
The Inconvenient Truth
Almost 1/3rd of the world’s working children are in India. This indicates that 50% of the children in the country are denied both their Right to Education as well as a safe and happy childhood. Independent estimates based on the traditional definition of child labour – children engaged in wage-earning activities, hazardous or non-hazardous – have approximated that up to 40 million children are in the workforce. When the definition is expanded to include children who are not enrolled in school, the number nearly triples to 100 million.
A Step Forward
Since 1986, India has had legislation that has legalized child labour in non-hazardous activities. However, this is as damaging to the growth of children as occupations in hazardous environments. Encouraging children to abandon school in order to work in agriculture amounts to carefully stripping away future opportunities, which is a violation of their Fundamental Rights and grounds for abuse. The MVF model recognizes that categorizing the work of children into “hazardous” and “non-hazardous” only leads to more complications, not solutions.
In 2013, the Punjab and Haryana High Court gave an order that is considered a landmark in Child Right Protection in India as it deemed the provisions of the 1986 Indian Child Labour legislation illegal and against the Constitution of India. A total ban has been imposed on the employment of children aged 5 – 14 in both hazardous and non-hazardous industries.
While this is a huge breakthrough, there is still a long way to go. The highest incidence of child labour is in villages, where it is easy for Court orders and laws to slip through the cracks due to negligence or ignorance. Additionally, it is important to ensure that all children are enrolled in schools immediately and not left idle. The existence of “idle non-school going children” is a myth as they will, sooner or later, be reintroduced into the workforce.
It is also important to consider the atmosphere found in many villages, where parents who desire to have their children educated are forced to put them to work due to peer or community pressure. Thus, MVF’s task is three-fold:
● Freeing children from the shackles of child labour
● Enrolling all children in full-time formal school
● Providing moral support and working with different stakeholders (such as parents, the Government, community youth groups etc) to create a sustainable environment for child education in the village