Officially, only 5000 children are labourers in JK but independent surveys show there are more than 1 Lakh child labourers
Despite the existence of many strict laws against child labor, the number of children working as laborers in various sectors is a reality across the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir; now Union Territory (UT). Though child labor is crime but JK is yet not prepared to prevent it on ground. 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.
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 (age in between 5-17) are engaged in labor seen as detrimental to their health and development. Africa ranks highest in child labor with the figures standing at 72 million while Asia and the Pacific ranks second highest with 62 million children.
Official figures state that around five thousand children are labourers in JK but the independent surveys show that the number could be more than one lakh. As per the census of 2001, 175,000 child laborers were in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to a report on child labour in Jammu and Kashmir, there are more than one lakh child laborers most of whom work in the handcraft sector, automobile workshops, brick kilns, agriculture and as domestic servants; thousands of children here are seen working as vendors, bus conductors and auto drivers.
Arguably, it is extreme poverty, in majority of cases, which pushes children into child labor, harming their health and depriving them of the right to education. And even if they continue education while working, these children fail to attend schools punctually and regularly. Many parents cite various reasons for sending their children for doing labor, the reasons are from poverty, acquisition of skills, lack of quality education down to the inaccessibility of schools.
While these are valid and sound reasons for parents to see their children doing labor when they should be at school, it is noteworthy that the parents cannot overlook the education, health and happiness of their child laborers for a few rupees: as parents, it is their duty and moral responsibility to look after their children well and ensure that they do not remain illiterate or miss schooling. Children can be engaged in doing tasks which are not harmful to them but force them to do hazardous work at the cost of their physical, mental and moral health is against the principles of child care and human rights.
Many child laborers have suffered serious injuries: recently, a minor child laborer driving a passenger auto rickshaw met with an accident; he broke his right leg and stayed in bed for about six weeks, losing both education and days of playing (which is essential for his psychological development).
Moreover, the ongoing political situation in Jammu and Kashmir here has added to the number of child laborers: thousands of children have lost their parents and guardians during the conflict and without a breadwinner, these children get trapped in the smithy of child labor aimed at supporting their families.
The grave crime of child labor has taken deep roots in Jammu and Kashmir despite the existence of statutory laws, anti-child labor rights bodies and commissions plus a mushroom growth of schools. Not stopping the menace raises a question mark on the efficiency and effectiveness of these institutions.
Preventing child labor, that is stopping minor children from hazardous work, is possible if both the society and state work together. But if they address it separately, we will end up in chaos. The government can launch child welfare schemes and rehabilitate child laborers; otherwise, the result can prove devastating, considering the fact that the government apathy is likely to encourage the vice of child labor.