It is a pathology that India continues to be home to the largest number of child labourers in the entire globe. Poverty and lack of social security are stated as some of the most important reasons for the existence of bonded child labour. The intrusion of the neo-liberal market, the withdrawal of the state from providing basic security nets, reduced employment opportunities for unskilled and semiskilled labour have adversely affected a significant section of the Indian population and the children from such communities are among the most badly affected groups.
Moreover, large scale companies know that child labour is the most convenient form of labour because children may be more vulnerable compared to their adult counterparts and may more readily accept lesser wages, poorer work conditions and injustice. The lack of universal compulsory education has also lead to the enhanced participation of children into the labour force.
It is also to be noted that since the larger ratio of children working as bonded labour are employed in the informal sectors, keeping an exact count of their number is often impossible. Moreover, in such a scenario implementing laws against the exploitation of children that attempt to protect them from hazardous occupations are also hard to implement. A large part of children work in completely unregulated conditions with poor wages, often no food or medication, subjected to emotional as well as sexual abuse etc. The population of children who work as bonded or child labourers is largely from the more marginalised section of the society- the Muslims, the Dalits and the OBCs. The continual inefficiency of the law, the absence of political will, poor administrative measures and lack of implementation of child protection laws have collectively allowed child labour to only grow with the passing of the years. Even though child labour in India is addressed by the Child Labour Act, 1986 and the
National Child Labour Project we see that we still have a long way to go before child labour is completely eradicated from the society.
The fact that child labour in the form of bonded labour continues to be perpetuated in our society becomes abundantly clear from the fact that in 2011, ILO noted that there were 350,000 children working as bonded child labourers in India alone. It is ironic that despite a number of legislations and heightened awareness about the existence of the problem, governments have not only failed to address the problem but have also done little to abolish both bonded and child labour. Only recently, nine children have been found working as bonded labourers in the national capital. Out of these none children, seven were girls and were found from the nation’s capital city working in extremely hostile and hazardous conditions. An official from the
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) said that the rescue operation for the nine children was conducted last week with the help and support of the Delhi Police. The children were presented before the child welfare committee and have been sent to an institution known for carrying out child care activities for the time being. The children who have been rescued as bonded labourers were all working in illegal slaughtering houses under extreme filthy conditions. The inspection carried out in these illegal abattoirs revealed how many of them were operating without required licences, safety mechanisms, no scheme for providing timely minimum wages and conditions that were extremely unhygienic. The probe discovered that more than 300 children were employed in these slaughterhouses and often composed the larger part of the workforce. Nine minors were rescued but hundreds still wait to see light of the day. The conditions of work were found to be both unsanitary and hazardous. The units did not own any record of its workers, had no safety measures, did not provide compulsory training and equipment etc. No arrests have been made in this case so far.
What is extremely ironical is that even while such cases surface time and again, the state fails to take any important step to abolish child labour altogether and to compensate their families with adequate employment options and due wages. The lack of political will and absence of a mechanism that ensures that child safety legislations are duly implemented has destructed the future of thousands of such Indian children. Amidst the hustle bustle of the General elections and the noise surrounding the revelations of a contested Exit-Poll, a case such as this would certainly remain unnoticed, unacknowledged and destined to die without a debate.
As the nation will welcome a new government, thousands of marginalised families will be compelled to send their children to industries where neither their lives nor their wages are ensured. Such children will labour in filthy, hazardous conditions with no food and amidst physical and emotional torture. While some lucky ones will be rescued by an operation by child rights groups, a majority of them will die before they see the light of the day. Can we not imagine an India where even such children matter?