A social evil

Child labour, like all other social phenomenon, is historically and socially conditioned. Its emergence, growth and nature of dynamics are intrinsically bound with the changing trends in production and reproduction of a given social matrix. By and large, prior to the rise and consolidation of modern capitalism, children were primarily assigned the status of helpers and learners in family occupations – often historically determined in third world under the supervision of the adult family member. Advent of capitalism rapidly transformed the scenario. The capitalist relations of production made superfluous the traditional practice of family members working as a team. Child labour was thus forced out from the familial environment. Being a universal phenomenon and a harsh reality, it is both an economic and a social evil. Normatively child labour has serious consequences and implications for children, parents, families and society as a whole and as such it has been recognized as a social evil. In assessing the nature and extent of social evil, it is necessary to take into account the character of the jobs in which the children are engaged, the dangers to which they are exposed and the opportunities of development which they have been denied. Sociologists, educationists and medical professionals unanimously consider it a curse to the young generation both physically and mentally. India has the largest number of working children than any other country in the world. According to statistics provided by the Government of India, around 90 million out of 179 million children in the 6 to 14 age group do not go to school and are engaged in some occupation or other. This means that close to 50% of children are deprived of their right to a free and happy childhood. Unofficially, this figure exceeds 100 million, but the fact that a large number of these children work without wages in fields or in cottage industries alongside their parents, unreported by census, makes it very difficult to estimate accurately. However, it is estimated that if these working children constituted a country, it would be the 11th largest country in the world. In our state majority of the child labourers are working as domestic helpers. The poorest and most disadvantaged sectors of our society supply the vast majority of child labourers. And most of them are not even paid. The question is have we ever thought about the children who are forced to work and do not even have basic rights? Merely passing laws is obviously not the solution, as they need to be enforced, and our state has a poor track record in this case. What are the causes responsible for child labour? One can attribute it to various factors including unemployment, low wages, poor standards of living, ignorance and illiteracy, social attitudes, etc. Together they culminate in poverty and exploitation. The poor would rather have children who work to supplement the family income. There are many cases where the parents sell their children as bonded labour for a petty sum of money. In fact ignorance is one of the main problems; ignorance on the part of the parents who believe that with their children working, poverty will be eradicated. And mostly children don’t know about their rights. The working conditions of the children are inhuman and the income, if any, meagre. Today issue of child labour has reached such proportions that until the people at the grassroots are mobilised; desired results will remain a far away dream. Every person, individually or collectively, can affect a change if he or she is sensitive and observant to this growing menace. One may be a student or a teacher, a parent or a child, an employee or an employer, but each one can help make the march against child labour successful. The use and abuse of the little and tender souls is an unpardonable sin. Simply blaming the ineffectiveness of the laws and lackadaisical attitude of the lawmakers will not absolve us of our responsibility. We have to make our small but significant efforts to eradicate child labour from the society.