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Labour law enforcement is lax

As child labour continues to pose a daunting challenge, there is fresh evidence that a breakthrough could be in the making, writes Cooshalle Samuel.

india Updated: Oct 28, 2007 15:37 IST
Cooshalle Samuel

As child labour continues to pose a daunting challenge, there is fresh evidence that a breakthrough could be in the making. Between 1950 to 2000, global child labour participation rates, declined from 27.6 to 11.3 per cent. The ILO reports that if in 2004 there were 218 million children trapped in child labour then their number fell by 11 per cent in the last four years. Encouraged, it believes that a future without child labour is within our grasp.

However, in India such a future remains a distant dream. While, child labour rates have indeed dropped by 22.45 per cent between 1950 to 2000, the country remains home to the world’s largest number of child workers. Caught between confusing statistics and a plethora of laws, the country has been making slow progress, but in the right direction.

For example, Bihar, where some 24,879 children work in brick kilns, today boasts of the country’s first ‘child labor free’ block. Launched jointly by the district administration and NGOs, the `Happy Hisua' campaign removed all child labourers in Hisua of Nawada district in Bihar in just 100 days, admitting them to schools.

Similarly, Maharashtra became the first state in the country to prepare a state action plan for the elimination of child labour. Its Task Force, set up in 2005 has reduced the number of child labourers in Mumbai from 27,500 to 8,900 in 2006. Raids carried out by Mumbai’s Juvenile Aid Police Unit (JAPU) have succeeded in sending 19,000 children home, if not enrolling them in schools.

Important as these small victories may be, at the national level we seem to be losing the larger battle. The reason: lax implementation of labour laws. Surveys by the National Human Rights Commission have found that labour inspectors often conduct poor quality inspections, do faulty prosecutions and medical officers often falsify children’s ages at the behest of employers.

India could learn a thing or two from Turkey where a strict labour inspection campaign, has in the last two years saved 4,000 children. This coupled with the country’s time-bound national policy for the elimination of child labour, has helped reduce the number of its working children by 50 per cent in last five years.

Or even from Brazil, whose Programa de Erradicação do Trabalho Infantil (PETI) has helped reduce child labour by 40 per cent in the last 12 years. Run by the Ministry of Social Assistance, it offers parents $30 per child per month on the condition that their 7-14 year old children attend school full time.

In fact it’s universally accepted, that eliminating child labour simply makes good economic sense. The ILO has calculated that forcing children to work will cost $5.1 trillion from now until 2020, but making them study instead will cost just $760 million. Thus, it’s high time the country shifts this fight for child rights into high gear and makes both rescuing and rehabilitating these exploited children a priority.