We are literally at the precipice of the child labour catastrophe. Just a casual look around, legions of children shouldering the onus of labour will catch your eye. Apple picking season peels off the mask of pro- children rhetoric; lofty morals are tossed out of the window. This brings us to one daunting challenge: school education of a generation is crumbling and doomed in the fog of child labour.
One burning question arises here: is education of child workers more important for them or labour -earning money? May be, I sound an old school here. According to a new report by the International Labour Organization ( ILO) and UNICEF, the number of children in child labour in the world has gone up to 160 million with millions more at risk due to the impact of COVID-19.
True, it is poverty which forces parents to see their minor children work and not enjoy their childhood. Poor families send their children for work to get a square meal or to clear family debts; social acceptance of child labour in our society is a culprit. And rich families hire children for a meagre amount. So the general public and families of the young laborers do not understand how harmful child labour is and the impact of the physical and psychological violence which stays forever.
The ILO says that child labour is “work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children and/or interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obliging them to leave school prematurely, or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work”.
In 2011, the ILO adopted the Domestic Workers Convention under which countries are to set a “minimum age for domestic workers consistent with the provisions of the Minimum Age Convention ... and the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention”. For the latter convention “work under particularly difficult conditions such as work for long hours or during the night or work where the child is unreasonably confined to the premises of the employer” is risky. Though child labour is largely seen as an offence, it seems that we —as one people — are either unwilling or unable to prevent it in its practical forms.
Hundreds of minor children can be seen doing manual labor in Dhabas, restaurants, railway stations; working as drivers/ conductors and construction workers; pruning apple trees, picking apple fruit , carrying apple boxes and doing other hazardous tasks for —a few rupees.
According to the United Nations figures, there are an estimated 152 million children in child labor; 72 million among them are in hazardous work. In the least developed countries, more than one in four children (ages 5-17) are engaged in labor seen as detrimental to their health and development. Africa ranks highest among regions of the number of children in child labor with the figures standing at 72 million. Asia and the pacific ranks second highest – 7% of all children and 62 million in total are in child labor in the region.
Together, Asia, Africa and the Pacific regions contribute nine out of ten children for child labor worldwide. The remaining number is provided by America (11 million), Europe and central Asia (6 million) and the Arab states (1 million). In terms of percentage, 5 % children account for child labor in America, 4 % in Europe and Central Asia and 3 % in the Arab states.
The 2011 census counted 250103 child labourers in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. If the study on the number of orphans here involved in menial jobs is not wrong, then 43% of the child population of 26,53,422 i.e., 11,40,971 children are working in J&K which is far more than the figure of 1,75,630 child laborers of census 2001.
According to a report on child labor in J&K, there are more than one lakh child laborers here, most of whom work in the handcraft sector, automobile workshops, brick kilns, in agriculture and as domestic servants in homes and thousands of children here are seen working as vendors, bus conductors and auto drivers.
The UT can launch child welfare schemes and rehabilitate child laborers; otherwise, the result can prove devastating, considering the fact that the apathy is likely to encourage child labor. Parents, teachers and preachers can play a key role in preventing child labor; they can take care of a child’s health and education. Education and awareness are a key requirement to obtain cooperation against child labour. Turning a blind eye to the offence is an invitation to dark future. We need to water the seeds of brilliance in our children.
Above all, combating child labour requires acknowledging its existence, understanding its forms and advocating for children’s rights. Only if the authorities, the institutions and society can work together, child labour is preventable. Half hearted endeavour aimed at putting an end to the child labour or selective prevention, is a wild goose chase.
(Author is RK Columnist and Teacher by Profession. Feedback:email@example.com)