Myth: There can be no solution to the problem of child labor in India. Poor parents do not want to send their children to school. They would rather have their children work and bring back some earning into the family income. These children have no choice but to work, otherwise they and their families will starve. Also, if they work they become equipped with some skills for the future.
Fact: When we hear such things we must ask ourselves why is it that some poor people send their children to school despite all odds while some others don’t. The truth is that poverty is just an excuse given by those who need to ensure continual supply of children for their benefit. Social factors contribute to the phenomenon of child labor. The socially marginalized communities are the victims of social hierarchy characterized by unequal access to resources. We all know that starvation persists even when families and their children are working. This is because starvation is the result of unjust social and economic factors.
All parents want to educate their children, at least give them basic quality education. For uneducated parents the admission procedures are too complex. Documentary evidence of date of birth, caste certificates are greater barriers in enrolling children into schools. For children, the curriculum is tough to cope with, particularly if they are first generation learners as their parents are not educated to provide the back-up support at home by helping them with the homework. Corporal punishment, caste discrimination, lack of basic facilities such as toilets and drinking water are some other factors that keep children away from school. In case of girls, sibling care often becomes the priority since child-care facilities are lacking in both rural and urban areas and gender biases are deep entrenched in people’s psyche.
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India accounts for the highest number of child labor in the world. According to the Census of India 2001, 1.25 crore children in the age group of 5-14 years are engaged in different occupations. However, estimates of organizations like ours (Bal Utsav) and some others put this at much more, because there are many more working in the unorganized sector and in small-scale household units, who never get enumerated as child labour.
Children who work and don’t go to a school remain illiterate and unskilled for the rest of their lives. This is because children are usually part of the unskilled labor. Moreover, in some occupations exposure to harmful chemicals and other substances, long hours of work, postures for work are factors that damage children’s health, and impair their development.
Children are being trafficked for labor every day. Touts and middlemen come to the villages posing as well-wishers and take away children to work in different parts of the country. Children from Bihar and Bengal are brought to work in Karnataka, Delhi or Mumbai in embroidery units; from Tamil Nadu to Uttar Pradesh to work in sweet making units and to Surat to work on gem and diamond polishing etc. Hundreds of them are employed in middle class homes as domestic labour. Existence of child labor is in direct contradiction to the fundamental right to free and compulsory elementary education for every child in the 6-14 years age group guaranteed by the Constitution of India in Article 21 A.
It should be noted that, every child out of labor means one more job available for adults. India has huge population of unemployed adults who could take the place of the children, leaving the children free to enjoy their right to childhood.