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Child Labour with special reference to construction business

Written by: Abhinay Kapoor - Currently in the 2nd semester, pusrsuing B.A.LL.B course in Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur
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India is 60 years old or I should say 60 years young, a India which s more energetic and more young but did all these years through which India is striving to get back its old name of ‘the golden bird’ made any difference in the position of this so called ‘great country’. I would definitely agree with the fact that India is developing but is the rate of development sufficient enough two reach that same height and that same greatness. Though the country is striving hard, there are many barriers which are coming in its way corruption, dowry death, caste conflicts, reservation system, unemployment, child labour, illiteracy, etc. All these problems, in their monstrous form are turning India into a country which no one has ever dreamt of. ‘An India which is beyond our imaginations, but with all negativities.’

Not going very deeply into all the other problems I would like to stick to the problem of child labour which is the main topic of concern in this project.On October 10th, India introduced a new law in the country regarding child labour. According to that law, children under fourteen years of age will not be employed in any kind of physical works. It will be exactly three months including today since the new law has been introduced and the tragedy is that child labourers are still found all over India.[1] How many times have we seen people complaining about the problem of child labour all around but do we really know its meaning? The laws passed against it or are we doing anything to fight this monster? The answer is ‘no’.

I can say this because I myself being a part of this country did not have much information about it until this summer, when I attended a seminar on it. These seminars are a great way to educate people against this gigantic problem which is spreading its claws day by day in spite of all the laws passed against it by the government and all the work done by some non governmental organisations whose efforts are tremendous in this field. All these seminars though are very useful to educate people but they don’t go to the root of these problems. Discussing these problems sitting in closed halls won’t affect this problem. We will have to actually move out of these halls and go to places where these people are really working and where these small children below the age of 14 years are being exploited to a level which is beyond imagination. Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This phrase says it all for all the powerful people who exploit these child labours and the police and government are silent due to the contact of these people among powerful politicians and other government officials who protect them going out of there way. So what should I say, the protectors of the society are themselves helping the anti social elements.

Times have changed and with all the changes taking place in the society the gap between the rich and the poor has been widened and nothing is been done to bride this gap. The rich people are enjoying a luxurious life and there children are being pampered and cared like never before but there is no one who thinks about all those people who don’t have all the resources to make there both ends meet. So these poor people are left without any choice except to send there children to work so that they can earn there livelihood. Yet, rescuing child labourers remains a complicated task. Apart from economic reasons, many children are reluctant to leave work as they do not find mainstream school education attractive.

“In these cases, bridge camps and non-formal education can be explored as an alternative for getting children acclimatized to studying and make it attractive for them,” said ARC coordinator Ingrid Mendonca.[2] The government makes policies but they never implement it, the common people are ignorant and surprisingly the people who are suffering are themselves scared to come out of this situation. The income levels of the families are so low that all the members of the family have to work and there combined income is not sufficient enough to give them a comfortable life. So as a result they have to forcefully send there children to do dangerous jobs like construction labours and to work in hazardous industries, to work as a mechanic or work in small hotels and tea stalls and these poor souls have to strive hard in these places to do jobs which are not for there age group. Another cause of this child labour can be unemployment, poor people who go out of there way and get education land up being unemployed this develops a metal block in the people that education is useless and they send there children to work at a very tender age and the government is helpless.

What Is Child Labour?

Child labour is not child work. Child work can be beneficial and can enhance a child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development without interfering with schooling, recreation and rest. Helping parents in their household activities and business after school in their free time also contributes positively to the development of the child. When such work is truly part of the socialisation process and a means of transmitting skills from parents to child, it is not child labour. Through such work children can increase their status as family members and citizens and gain confidence and self-esteem.

Child labour, however, is the opposite of child work. Child labour hampers the normal physical, intellectual, emotional and moral development of a child. Children who are in the growing process can permanently distort or disable their bodies when they carry heavy loads or are forced to adopt unnatural positions at work for long hours. Children are less resistant to diseases and suffer more readily from chemical hazards and radiation than adults.

UNICEF classifies the hazards of child labour into three categories, namely:

(i) Physical; (ii) cognitive; (iii) emotional, social and moral.
To be very specific child labour can be termed as economically active population below the age of 14 engaged in various industries and working as domestic helpers to earn there livelihood. Child labouris now used to denote the employment of minors in work that may interfere with their education or endanger their health.[3]Child labour has hostile consequences on the health of the children, it is an obstacle to there education and hampers there childhood. These children also suffer from malnutrition due to their poor living conditions.

Child labourers work for most of the time. In some cases they work for 16 hours a day. This deprives the child from time to seek education, which is essential for the overall development and future progress of the child. Some children are bound by their employers as slaves and have to work all the time. In some cases the poverty of the household and low level of parental education are responsible for child labour. The value of education is less important to the parents than the income the child earns for them. In the present money-oriented environment, the parents consider putting their child to work a better education method than schooling as work assures survival and better future prospects. This is due to the failure of many graduates to get a job, which is evident from the high level of unemployment existing among them.

These children have to suffer mental and physical job stress at a very young age. They also receive less or no education as compared to there rich counterparts. There are many organisations working against it which favour policies which worsen the conditions for them as said by Shyamla a household worker who works near by, whose 12 years son was thrown out from a factory which used to manufacture crackers. According to her, “my son was thrown out because these organisations used to discourage people to buy crackers made by them as they were made by children below the age of fourteen; as a result they have to remove all child labourers.”[4] She thinks that the organisation is responsible for the loss of his son’s job and considers them there enemies. These organisations follow policies like high amount of taxation and discouraging people to buy these products to decrease child labour and they are successful up to some extent but they make many people like Shyamla there enemies.

By losing that one job her families monthly income is now in danger, such policies should only be implemented when they have an alternative method which would provide income to her families until and unless any policy is made to support them they will continue doing it if not there then in some other place. That poor boy used to work and support his family and those measures should be adopted which would not worsen there condition. These poor people have a mindset that chil labour is good so now we should educate them that how bad it is and how badly it effects there child’s future. Time has come to step forward and make a change, so let’s make all our efforts to make this thing happen.

Some facts and figures about child labour

There are various estimates of working children magnitude in India due to differing concepts of estimation and methods. According to a census of India (up to 2001) India had 10.75 million child labours while in 2001 it had around 12.66 million child labours. The increase in the magnitude of child labour during 1991-2001 was in spite of tremendous efforts by government, United Nations and other international agencies and NGOs for universalizing primary and elementary education and removing children from work through education and other rehabilitative interventions. The results depicts that only education interventions without integrating poverty alleviation programmes in the policy may not yield desired results of reducing child labour. The bar diagram below shoes the ups and downs in the level of child labour, there was a decline after 1981 but it again went up in 2001 which is considered a very negative sign for a developing country like India where al these figures matter a lot. The figure above shows the changing level of child labour from 1971-2001[5]

Regional Patterns
Child labour is found all over the country in large magnitude but regional variation of child workers suggests that high magnitude is found in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar in 2001.In 1991 Andhra Pradesh was the leader with the largest number of child labours, but our proud state of Uttar Pradesh was been declared as the leader according to 2001 census as shown below. Though Uttar Pradesh is leading but Andhra Pradesh is in second place though the level has gone down.

The figure above shows the changing level of child labours in different states from 1991-2001[6]

Constitution Provisions Related To Child Labour

ARTICLE 21 A[7]:

Right To Education

The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6 to 14 years in such manner as the State, by law, may determine.
ARTICLE 24[8]:

Prohibition of Employment of Children In Factories, Etc.

No child below the age fourteen years shall be employed in work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.
ARTICLE 39[9]:

The State Shall In Particular, Directive Policy Towards Securing:

that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength.

Main Features of The Directions of Supreme Court In There Judgment

On 10th December 1996 the Supreme Court on a writ petition gave directions o the issue of elimination of child labour; the main features of the judgement are as under:
- Survey for identification of working children;
- Withdrawal of children working in hazardous industry and ensuring their education in appropriate institutions;
- Contribution @ Rs.20000/- per child to be paid by the offending employers of children to a welfare fund to be established for this purpose;
- Employment to one adult member of the family of the child so withdrawn from work and it that is not possible a contribution of Rs.5000/- to the welfare fund to be made by the State Government;
- Financial assistance to the families of the children so withdrawn to be paid -out of the interest earnings on the corpus of Rs.20,000/25,000 deposited in the welfare fund as long as the child is actually sent to the schools;
- Regulating hours of work for children working in non-hazardous occupations so that their working hours do not exceed six hours per day and education for at least two hours is ensured. The entire expenditure on education is to be borne by the concerned employer.
- The implementation of the direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court is being monitored by the Ministry of Labour and compliance of the directions have been reported in the form of Affidavits on 05.12.97, 21.12.1999, 04.12.2000, 04.07.2001 and 04-12-2003 to the Hon’ble Court on the basis of the information received from the State/UT Governments.

The Present Rules And Regulations
Even after the above laws and constitution provisions the problem was increasing day by day at an alarming rate, the laws were not sufficient enough to stop it. The violators of these laws were able to find some loophole and escape from punishment and the government and officials were just a mere helpless spectator. Something had to be done about it and then in 2006 an amendment was made to this act and two new provisions were added which made the escape of people almost impossible.

The amendment was made on 10th October, 2006. It was as under:
In the schedule to the child labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act,1986, (61 of 1986), in Part A, under the heading “occupations”,

After item (13) and the entry relating thereto, the following items and entries shall be added, namely:-
(14) Employment of child as domestic workers or servants.
(15) Employment of children in dhabas (roadside eateries), restaurants, hotels, motels, tea shops, resorts, spas or other recreational centres[10].
These were few of the amendments which were made though the laws have been made but nothing has been done to catch and punish the violators of this law and still dreams of small children are being washed away by these cruel people and the law and the police stand as mere spectators.

Case Study of Construction Business In Uttar Pradesh

Construction business is classified as highly labour intensive method and male children are engaged in most of these kinds of operations. Children are employed through long term contract basis through advances and loans extended to their parents by the labour contractors who supply labour to big contractors; many times contractors themselves do this job. Children are made to work for long hours and they are paid less than market and official minimum wages. They are exposed to harsh working conditions and tough physical labour. And I am sure that the condition is just the same all over the country. When I went to some of the construction sites in Unnao a small district near Lucknow, I was not surprised to find people who were violating these rules and the safety standards of the children were not even taken into consideration.

Out of 5 construction sites surveyed the percentage of child labourers was 16.66% [11]which is not at all less as according to the laws passed against this. After such harsh laws mentioned above the percentage should be nothing except 0%. And surprisingly the number of female workers was less they were only 28%[12] of the total number of child labourers. This may be because female children are more into jobs like domestic help, etc. Construction work requires a lot of physical labour which male children can do better, this might be a reason for there lesser number. But the point is still the same there were child labourers in all the sites and what I noticed that all of them were thin and weak and suffering from malnutrition. And another surprising thing was they were scared to talk about there sufferings and everyone said that they were working there by there own will no one has forced them to work there. The police and the government is quiet on all these matters, they just make committees, pass laws and then amend them from time to time but no one is there to work in these committees, to enforce these laws or to fight for the right of these poor, innocent children whose childhood is being buried under these tall buildings and factories of whose construction they are an important part.

Details of The Survey Made

Type of construction Unit of a factory Departmental store Office building Bungalow Bungalow
Number of workers 65 30 25 15 15
Male 45 23 19 11 15
Female 20 07 06 04 00
Children below the age of 14 years 08 07 03 02 05
Male 06 05 03 02 03
Female 02 02 00 00 02
Following details are from a survey made on the construction sites in Unnao, a district near Lucknow[13].

Newspaper Roundup
“Law against child labour has failed to deter employers”[14]
The ban on using child labour has entered its second year
‘India has the highest number of child labourers in the world’

This news paper article says that even the ban on child labour has entered its second year but children continue to face exploitation as domestic help and in unsuitable job. Pointing out that India has the highest number of child labour the writer said that it is mainly due to the social inequality. A quote from the article explains it “The child labour ban is a paper tiger because child labour cannot be eliminated unless the root causes are addressed,” said Pradeep Narayanan, Deputy General Manager, Research at Child Rights and You (CRY).

Child labour in India: A tragic scenario[15]

On October 10th, India introduced a new law in the country regarding child labour. According to that law; children less than fourteen years of age will not be employed in any kind of physical works. It will be exactly three months including today since the new law has been introduced and the tragedy is that child labourers are still found all over India. Recently, government officials have found 750 children working in restaurants, shops and in various other places.

Labour dept. to maintain vigil at construction sites[16]
This article says that after finding out at least half a dozen children working in the construction of a government hospital the labour department has asked all its inspectors to maintain vigil at all construction sites. A quote from the article is given below:
Unionists suggest the setting up of government-regulated crèches near construction sites to eradicate child labour. "Often parents have no choice but to bring their children to the sites and these children then start slowly helping out in activities.Acrèche and part-time classes will put an end to this," says R. Geetha, all-India secretary, Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam.

India has already missed its target of covering all the children of 6-14 years I schools by 2005.This was widely observed in populated states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa and Rajasthan.

The official data has admitted that the magnitude of child labour has increased from 11.59 million in 1991 to 12.66 million in 2001 (Census 2001)[17]. However unofficial sources claim between 25 to 30 million child workers, as significant number of child workers in domestic and agriculture sector are not covered in the census. This view can be supported by few lines from an article which says “Many children have been rescued from hotels; dhabas and other eateries, but there are also many children working as domestic help. But most of these cases remain hidden, and even if they do come to light, households cannot be raided as easily,” said ARC member Manish Shroff. Nirmala Hiremath of Mobile Crèches said that a large number of child labourers are also found at construction sites.
Another point is that technological development can serve as a real benefit for the eradication of child labour because technological development makes the use of child labour which is unskilled a real uneconomical proposition. This will be a real beneficiary measure for both the children and the technological advancement of the country.

The prosecution and conviction rates against child labour abolition Act-1986 always point at the poor implementation of the act and the lazy attitude of the police and officers responsible. Those who are making an effort are been crushed under the corrupt system which is always ready to help the violators of law to fill there purses or to get any favour in return. The efforts of National Child Labour Projects (NCLP) are not sincere enough to support released child labourers from work and there grass root level coordination with other welfare organisations is missing. Efforts should be made to coordinate the efforts of all the organisations and form a chain to capture this monster of child labour. The children who are enrolled by these organisations do not very often complete the cycle of elementary education. The coverage area of these organisations is very small and mainly in urban areas and they seriously need scaling up. The schools in which these rescued students are made to study are in pathetic situation and this is a very important reason of this increasing drop out rates. The drop out rates is more among children of 10-14 years which shows that students do join these schools but they eventually leave it in the middle may be due to the poor facilities provided by the government, or due to the pressure from parents to work and sustain family livelihood.

The government will have to make efforts to bring people above poverty line in India, and to increase the per capita income of people, which in turn will bring down the level of child labour. Though the increase in unemployment has been helpful to bring down the level of child labour as most of the adult brigade is unemployed and employers prefer adult workers over child labourers.

The food deficit at home is also a reason which forces the parents to send there children to work, if the government ration shops function properly then they don’t have to suffer from food deficit.

So to sum up all the things India has to go a long way to finish this problem and pluck it out right from its roots, India has all the possible resources needed it use them in the right direction and the youth of the country will have to play a large role in this process. The haves will have to take care of the requirements and well being of the have-nots and make this country a better place to live in. To end this report I would like to quote few lines from the autobiography from our Honourable past President A.P.J Abdul Kalam.

“Don’t worry and fret, fainthearted,
The chances have just begun,
For the best jobs haven’t been started,
The best work hasn’t been done[18].”
So lets take an initiative and start doing the best work in this field in order to uproot this monster and make our country a better place to live in

[1] See; Mehendi Hasan, child labour in a tragic scenario, (10th December 2006) as in www.Asia, accessed on 24th November,2007.
[2] From; State figures on child labour are not real: activists, Express news service, online edition, 14th Nov, 2007, as accessed on 26th November, 2007
[3]See; Child labour, , as on 22nd November,2007
[4]From; an interview taken of a household worker on 28th November 2007.
[5]From; Census of India,
[6] From census government of India,, as accessed on 26th November, 2007
[7] From; Constitution of India, online version, as accessed on 1st December, 2007
[10] See; Gazette of India, online version, ministry of labour and employment, (New Delhi 10th October,2006)
[11] From; a personal survey made on 24th November, 2007
[13] Supra number 11
[14] From; Child labour has failed to deter employers, The Hindu(online edition) as accessed on 29th November.2007
[15] From; Child labour in India: A tragic scenario,, as accessed on 24th November, 2007
[16] From; Labour department to maintain vigil at construction sites, The Hindu(online edition) as accessed on 5th December,2007
[17] See;, as accessed on 4th December, 2007
[18] From; Wings of fire, by A.P.J Abdul Kalam ,pg no. 75(1st edition, Universities Press, Hyderabad)

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