No ‘Kid’ding; it's serious

By Sushmita Dutta | Last Updated: Friday, June 12, 2009 - 19:07
Sushmita Dutta
Sushi's Musings

When we employ a kid for a job, we might be giving him money to feed himself,
but with that 'help' his entire future turns bleak. These children are robbed of education and proper care which will only weaken our work force in the future, resulting in a mal-nourished, under-skilled nation.

Aren't these children- who put so much effort to feed their large family- personified violation of human rights and a big slap in the face of our socio-political system? And mind it, it is not only at the tea stalls or roadside <i>dhabas</i> that these child labourers can be found doing all sorts of menial jobs, some of which are even life threatening. Our society today is firmly in the boa grip of the evil of child labour which, if not checked in time, will crush the very fabric of society and destroy the innocence of numerous children.

"Child labour" is, generally speaking, work for children that harms or exploits them in some way or another. It reflects the violation of child rights leading to exploitation and deprivations of all kinds. It also reflects the economic inequity and insecurity, dearth of social safety networks, magnitude of poverty, paucity of opportunities for health and education, and of course the financial independence.

According to International Labour Organisation estimates, in 2001, "246 million child workers aged 5 and 17 were involved in child labour, of which 171 million were involved in work that by its nature is hazardous to their safety, physical or mental health, and moral development. Moreover, some 8.4 million children were engaged in so-called 'unconditional' worst forms of child labour, which include forced and bonded labour, the use of children in armed conflict, trafficking in children and commercial sexual exploitation."

The problem of child labour is widespread across the world, but it is the third world countries that have the majority of children workforce.

And to realize this we only have to look around and the bitter truth hits us hard on face.

Going by statistics, 61 percent of child labour force is seen in Asia, 32 percent in Africa, 7 percent in Latin America and 1 percent in US, Canada, Europe and other wealthy nations. In Asia, children form a whopping 22 percent of the total workforce while in Latin America it is 17 percent. In Africa, one in every three child works while in Latin America it is slightly higher with one ‘little labourer’ in every five children. In both these continents, only a tiny proportion of child workers are involved in the formal sector and a majority of them work for the sake of their families either in homes, in fields or on streets.

This giant ‘little workforce’ is active in every sector and industry, many of which are extremely dangerous for an otherwise normal child. While the boys’ work ranges from taking care of animals, planting and harvesting food, to many kinds of small manufacturing jobs (e.g. bricks and cement), auto repair, and making footwear and textiles, the girls mostly work as domestic maids.

Being a maid in someone’s house is fraught with its own risks. Maids typically are cut off from friends and family, and can easily be physically or sexually abused by their employers.

Beyond compassion, we must also consider that today’s children are the future of our society. Between today and the year 2020, the vast majority of new workers, citizens and new consumers — whose skills and needs will build the world’s economy and society — will come from developing countries. Over that 20-year period, some 730 million people will join the world’s workforce — more than all the people employed in today's most developed nations. More than 90 percent of these new workers will be from developing nations. Only future will tell how many of them will have to start working at an early age, losing their health and hampering their education.


Poverty is widely considered as the top reason why these children take up jobs inappropriate for their ages. The parents of child labourer are often unemployed or underemployed. A lot many times, the family expectations and traditions force the children into jobs. Other reasons include child abuse, lack of good education, public opinion that downplays the risk of early work for children and uncaring attitudes of employers.

<b>Possible Solutions</b>

Expectation from those who stroll in the corridors of power, politics and policy-making is to adopt a humanistic and holistic approach towards this problem. Treat the patient, not the disease only. They should take into consideration all possible determinants of a particular problem while suggesting solutions.

Raising a lot of hue and cry against child labour and threatening poor parents/guardians of possible punishment if they do not send their children to schools, do sound progressive but are not problem-solving. We should develop the skill of analyzing our own situation and then coming up with solutions.

We, as a nation, have to develop the art and science of looking into the issues through our own lens rather than accepting the visions created by others. Many developed countries have been successful in getting out of the grip of this vice. Lot many steps have been taken to curb child labour. One among them is to make the general public aware of its negative aspects. People have now started offering support to organizations that are raising awareness, and some of them have also come ahead and provided direct help to children. To rescue a child from the clutches of enforced slavery, the emphasis should be on economic development that raises family income and also its living standard.

Education has been made compulsory, affordable and relevant. The anti-child labour laws were strongly enforced in the nations free of this problem. It is a myth that child labour will only disappear when poverty disappears. Hazardous labour can, and should, be eliminated by even the poorest countries. And a wave of these reforms has to crash in developing countries as well so as to get rid of child labour forever.

On this Anti-Child Labour Day, everyone should take a pledge to help at least one child worker around us. In reality, ours is a society where some people are in reality less equal than others. The vast majority of less equals belong to low socio-economic strata and include women and children. The need of the time is to offer enabling environment for education and economic opportunities for the disadvantaged communities.

First Published: Friday, June 12, 2009 - 19:07

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