Child labour has emerged as an increasingly important issue, reflecting heightened sensitivity to problems at all levels. The Constitution of India and successive governments have targeted its elimination and promoted universalisation of education.
EVERY YEAR in June, the world community celebrates Anti-Child Labour Day. And in increasing combination, various specialised agencies and non-government organisations (NGOs) have in recent years placed child labour, especially its worst forms, high among their concerns. They also have begun to achieve some discernible progress.
But not nearly enough. According to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) latest – though imperfect global estimate, approximately 246 million children between the age of five and 15 are engaged in “child labour”. The ILO further guesses that seven in 10 of them are in agriculture, followed by service businesses (22 per cent) and industry (nine per cent). Asia-Pacific claims the greatest share of child workers (122 million), then sub-Saharan Africa (49 million).
In India, the government itself in its most recent account estimates that 12.6 million children under the age of 14 are at work in various occupations including hazardous occupations. NGO estimates put the number of children employed in domestic work and roadside eateries alone at two million. Centre of Concern for Child Labour, a Delhi based NGO estimated that there are nearly 70 million school-age going children in India who are out of schools. So the total number of working children in India is much higher than the government estimates.
Child workers are engaged primarily in agriculture and allied activities in rural areas and in a variety of industries and informal sector activities in the urban areas. The most exploitative form of chid labour includes child prostitution and forced and bonded labour, which is found in some parts of the country. The situation of girl child labourers in the country