It has been his life’s mission. Last week, Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi renewed his demand for a complete ban on every kind of child labour up to 14 years. Seeking the early passage of a pending legislation against child labour, Mr Satyarthi said history “won’t forgive” MPs if they fail in the task. The pending legislation is the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, and, if passed by Parliament, employing children below 14 years in any occupation will become illegal, making it consistent with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. The activist also demanded that even children between 14 and 18 years must not be allowed to work in labour activities notified as hazardous. The government banned child labour in 2012, but implementation has been patchy.
The reasons for such a demand are not far to seek: According to the 2011 census, there are about 4.35 million working children in the 5-14 age bracket. In the 2001 census, the number was about 12.6 million. However, despite a 65% reduction in the number of working children, India still has the largest number of child labourers in the world. Non-profit organisations estimate there are more than 60 million child labourers, which is 6% of India’s total population.
While the passage of the new law would give children’s right a huge fillip, eradicating child labour will not be easy. This is because while everyone tends to talk about child labour, very little focus is put on the socio-economic situation of their families which forces them to send their children out to work. In fact, one of the programmes that Mr Satyarthi’s organisation runs — Bachchpan Bachao Andolan — tries to tackle this issue by helping parents access government funds so that they are not forced to take their wards out of schools to earn extra money. Along with focusing on the backend (families), there is an urgent need to encourage education, enforce labour laws to abolish child trafficking, promote fair trade and replace child workers with adult workers to ensure that children live the life they are meant to.