Child Labour in India: decreasing numbers and budgets
The Child Labour Act was amended in 2016 to allow children to work in “family enterprises” which work as a loop-hole that defeated the aims of the Act of eliminating child labour.
“Children shouldn’t work on fields, but on their dreams” is the theme for this year’s World Day Against Child Labour. Globally, 152 million children are labourers and seven of every 10 children are working in the agricultural sector.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was launched on this day in 2002 to focus attention on the extent of child labour, and the efforts needed to eliminate it by 2025. Globally, child labour rates are down by 40 per cent and 94 million fewer children are working now than in 2000. But how fast is the progress?
In India, according to the 2011 Census, the last available, over a crore children in the age group 5-14 years were labourers.
The percentage of working children fell from five per cent in 2001 to 3.9 per cent in 2011.
In 2016, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 was amended by the Centre. The amendment allows children to “help his family or family enterprise, which is other than any hazardous occupations or processes set forth in the Schedule, after his school hours or during vacations.” This loop-hole is against the target of eliminating child labour.
Initiated in 1988, the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) scheme aims at identifying and rehabilitating child workers in endemic districts. The trends in the number of children who were rescued or rehabilitated from child labour have decreased since 2014.
In 2016-17, 30,979 child workers were rescued from child labour — a small number of the overall child labour force. Moreover, this is a huge fall from the previous data of 59,076 children rescued between 2015 and 2016. The decrease in children rescued from child labour is not a welcoming sign of abolishing child labour in India.
The estimated budget for the NCLP programme has faced a decline of 16 per cent this year. From being allocated 120 crores in 2018-2019 (the revised estimate was just 93 crores) to 100 crores in 2019-2020.
In India, the decline in child labour was more visible in rural areas, but the number of child workers has increased in urban areas. This indicates the growing demand for child workers in menial jobs. In cities, there is an increase among children—particularly girls—being hired as domestic help for poor wages.
According to a report by non-government organisation Child Rights and You (CRY), there is a lack of knowledge about family-based occupations due to the recent amendments in the child labour legislation and the changing definition of child and adolescent. The report added that there are implementation challenges in keeping children of ages 15-18 years away from hazardous occupations and processes.
The Global Childhood report 2019 by Save The Children showed that India has seen a 70 per cent reduction in child labour between 2000 and 2016. We have come a long way but we have a long way to go.