However, we find in Manusmriti and Arthashastra that the king made education for every child, boy or girl, compulsory. In those days there was a system of trade of children, who were purchased and converted to slaves by some people. The problem of child labour was identified as a major problem in the 19th century when the first factory was started in mid-19th century. Legislative measures were first adopted as early as 1881. Since independence there have been several laws and regulations regarding child labour.
Child labour has been defined as any work done by the children in order to economically benefits their family or themselves directly or indirectly, at the cost of their physical, mental or social development. Child is the loveliest creation of nature. But it is the circumstances which force them to hard labour. They have to earn livelihood from early childhood, stopping their mental development. The nation suffers a net loss of their capacity as mature adults.
Child labour is a global problem. It is more common in underdeveloped countries. Child labour, by and large, is a problem of poor and destitute families, where parents cannot afford education of their children. They have to depend on the earning of their children.
The prevalence of child labour is a blot on society. It is a national disgrace that millions of children in this country have to spend a major part of their daily routine in hazardous works. The problem of child labour in India is the result of traditional attitudes, urbanisation, industrialisation, migration, lack of education, etc. However, extreme poverty is the main cause of child labour. According to the UNICEF, India is said to have the largest number of world’s working children. Over 90% of them live in rural areas. The participation rate in rural urban areas is 6.3% and 2.5% respectively. According to a recent report, 17 million children in our country are engaged in earning their livelihood. This constitutes 5% of the total child population of the nation. It is about one-third of the total child labourers of the world.
In India, working children are engaged in different organised and unorganised sectors, both rural and urban areas. In rural sector, children are engaged in field plantations, domestic jobs, forestry, fishing and cottage industry. In urban sector they are employed at houses, shops, restaurants, small and large industries, transport, communication, garages, etc. In India, working children are also self-employed as newspaper, milk boys, shoeshine boys, rag pickers, rickshaw-pullers, etc. About 78.71% of child workers are engaged in cultivation and agriculture, 6.3% are employed in fishing, hunting and plantation, 8.63% in manufacturing, processing, repairs, house industry, etc., 3.21% in construction, transport, storage, communication and trade and 3.15% in other services.
Child Labour is exploited in several ways. Preference of child labour by many employers is mainly due to the fact that it is cheap, safe and without any liability. Many children take up the job just because of the non-availability of schools in their areas and thus rather than sitting idle, they prefer to go to work. Illiteracy and ignorance of parents is also an important factor. These parents do not consider child labour as evil. Child labourers have to work more than adult workers. They are exploited by their employers.
There are several constitutional and legal provisions to protect working children. At present there are 14 major acts and laws that provide legal protection to the working children. Notwithstanding, the evils of child labour is on the increase. The biggest cause behind its spread is poverty. It cannot be completely eradicated from society unless its root cause is not addressed. Child labour perpetuates poverty.
Child labour is economically unsound, psychologically disastrous and ethically wrong. It should be strictly banned. The general improvement in socio-economic conditions of people will result in gradual elimination of child labour.