According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) a new generation of children is being deprived of the chance to take their rightful place in the society and economy of the 21st Century. The ILO has proposed that ‘child labour’ will disappear in a decade. If this happens well and good. But in reality the situation is worsening. One in eightchildren in the world is exposed to the worst forms of child labour which endanger children’s physical, mental health and moral well being.
The problem In many countries children lives are plagued by armed conflict, child labour, sexual exploitation and other human rights violations. Children living in rural areas have fewer opportunities to obtain good quality education. They have less access to services than children living in cities. The UN Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC) (Article 38) has explicitly prohibited person under age 18 being recruited into the armed forces or direct participating in hostility. In spite of this special provision under CRC, many countries still involve children below 18 years in hostilities.
Child labour keeps children out of school and is a major barrier to development. To make the anti child labour law a reality, poverty and unemployment need to be eliminated. Unless the standard of living improves at the lower levels of the society, children will be forced to work. Many middle and upper class families do not hesitate to engage young boys and girls to help them with household cores. The middle class family feels by employing a child below 14 years they are helping poor families to increase their earnings for daily livelihood.
Age of the Child. According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child article (i) defines “The child as every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”.
The Indian Penal Court (IPC) defines the child as being 12 years of age.
Indian Traffic Prevention Act 1956 defines a “Minor” as a person who has reached the age of 16 years.
Section 376 of IPC which punishes the perpetrators of the crime of rape defines the age of consent to be 16 years of age.
Section 82 and 83 of the IPC states that a child under the age of 7 years cannot be guilty of an offence and further a child under 12 years is not considered to have attained sufficient maturity to have an understanding of the nature of the Act and the consequences of his conduct.
Juvenile justice Act 2002 defines a male minor as being below 16 years and a female minor as being below 18 years of age
From the above definitions, it could be seen, in the Indian context the age of an Individual in order to be determined as a “Child” is not uniformly defined. The consequences of this are that it offers various gaps in legal procedures which are used by the guilty to escape punishment.
Indian Scenario of Child Labour & Legislation According to the UN Study about 150 Million children of age group five to 14 are working in various industries in India. They are found working in road-side restaurants, tea stalls and shops, at construction sites and in factories. Girls suffer labour exploitation to such a degree that million of girls die before they reach the age of 15. They are paid a pittance as low as Rs.20 per day and many live in shops or work places where they are subjected to various forms of exploitation. Besides the work they are abused physically, mentally and sexually by the scurrilous task masters.
Mafia gangs bring children for “Begging” in urban cities. A child beggar of aged between five and ten collects the maximum. With a burn scar or decapitation they can earn more. As they grow older their earnings decrease. As a consequence they graduate to be big -time traders involved in drug peddling, pick pocketing, robbery and prostitution. A child beggar will only be paid 10% of his earnings of Rs.300 to 500 a day. If he fails to meet the target fixed by the contractor he is punished brutally. The girls by the time they reach 13 years switch over to prostitution.
Begging is used as a profession by antisocial elements forcing children in begging. Begging is prohibited in some cities of India by local governments.
The Indian government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992 and introduced various pieces of legislation to curb child labour. The Labour Ministry of India has imposed a ban on children under age 14 from working as domestic help in hotels. Under this law any employment of children under 14 will invite imprisonment up to two years and a fine of Rupees twenty thousand. India has also banned employment of children in hazardous industries including the manufacture of fire crackers, carpet making, glass making etc. under Child Labour Act 2002
Although India has the second largest child population in the world, there is no single unified separate legislation to deal with all the offences against children.
It is high time India introduced an all encompassing common act to safeguard the rights of a child.