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As the technology in our nation flourishes, many countries still use lanterns and candles. As our generation progresses towards education, there are children who do not have paper and pencils. As we spend countless hours shopping for fur coats and sneakers, children in other countries work in inhumane conditions to provide a day’s meal for their family.
Aside from abuse, cruel working conditions, and the greed of merely $0.10 – $0.20 an hour, the most unfortunate part is that these kids see this path as their only option because they have no education and no other means of survival. In India, child labor is extremely exploitative. Women should be given equal opportunity as men in the workforce in order to decrease the reliance on child laborers. If India is to truly consider itself a democratic country, it should implement ways in which women and children can attain education that will lead to better living conditions.
Defining child labor is not as simple and straightforward as it may appear because there is no universally accepted definition of child labor, but for the sake of this essay, I will define it as being in line with the United States definition: Children younger than 14 should not be working, and if they are, it should be for an income that is in line with the cost of living. They should not work for more than 40 hours per week without overtime pay, and their rate of pay in 40 hours should provide them with enough income for a reasonable life that includes enough food, clothing and shelter. According to the United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO), if children younger than 14 do work that in some way harms or exploits them physically, mentally or morally, or blocks them from education, then that work is considered child labor (UNICEF).
Indian child labor dates back to a culture in which child work was not a discrete activity but was a widely-accepted mandatory routine. Children were gradually initiated into the world of the adults and labor. This was viewed as transitioning children from adolescence to adulthood and was encouraged, depending on family. Children continue to be socialized in a manner that prepares them for this future task and being prepared for the new lifestyle that follows.
Today, the debate on child labor in India is highly polarized. Some argue the work done by children is a form of apprenticeship, a way to provide for their family, and preparation for real life, better than the formal or informal institution could provide. On the other hand, some people believe India has a culture of poverty that can only be addressed by education and by the inclusion of women into roles that are traditionally associated with men.
Though many laws have been implemented in India and many other nations against child labor, according to United Nations Convention on Child Rights, there are an estimated 12.6 million child laborers in India under the age of 14. Children are the future leaders and should be brought up in an environment that cultivates their skills and talents. Children are supposed to have quality education and be protected from harsh labor, not only because it is their fundamental right but also because they are the future of society. Due to the high poverty rates, over population and high demand for cheap labor in India, many children are forced into cruel child labor where working conditions are horrendous. It is widely accepted that poverty and the lack of quality education is the major driving force of child labor. By making primary education available and open to both women and children, the childhood of millions of kids can be given back to them and a future can be forged.
Many Indians do not believe in the notion of education and they are unaware of the negative implications of harsh labor the children have to endure. This way of thinking separates the privileged from the poor and allows for inhumane treatment. Poverty deprives the children of quality education and of the opportunity to acquire skills for a better future. According to Ahmed (2011), “Nearly 30 per cent of the Indian population is living below the poverty line and 41.6 per cent and 75.6 per cent of the poorest population is living under $1.25 and $2 dollars a day…” (p. 62). Children in India are a financially viable source of labor for poor parents and it is no surprise when one finds children from the poor villages recruited and forced to leave home and education to participate in cruel labor in harsh working conditions. Poor households in India with no savings, assets, or access to credit are most likely to send children to work, rather than educate them.
Most often it is the poor, uneducated parents who send their kids to work. They are often unaware of their rights because they are illiterate and there are few sources available to them for education. With the proper education and training, it increases their chance of becoming better adults and will potentially remove one from the circle of poverty. With this view, if the children in India were encouraged and forced to attend school, it could ultimately protect children from the labor force and protect them against parents forcing them into the labor force at an early age.
But India, a self-declared democratic country falters in its delivery of education, even to those who are given an opportunity to be educated. Some, mostly women, politicians have taken up the duty of bringing education to villages, where it was otherwise nearly impossible to get education. Even though this is happening more, there are also not very many people allowed to participate because there are more people wanting the education than there is room for (Knowledge, 2012). But there are a lot of poor policies in delivering the education to the rural communities. For example, school teachers are hired from a selection of state-wide candidates and are selected by the state. Some believe that making the selection process this way makes it subject to bribes and other forms of corruption. The women that do come to teach make efforts towards things like making sure there are separate bathrooms for males and females. This could lower the number of female drop outs after puberty (Knowledge, 2012).
According to Subhash Barman, who conducted a study in the level of education and the participation in the labor force, the parents who have a less education tend to have a higher participation in children laborers. Barman finds in his research (2011): “The per cent of child labor is the highest among the households belonging to poorest and poorer wealth status category and the lowest for the richest households. Poverty is the main root of incidence of child labor,” (p. 388). He also states, “Per cent of child labor is negligible or zero when a parents educational level is higher…education is important in determining the participation in workforce of their wards, because participation in the child labor force becomes lower with increase in each level of education…” (p. 387).
Many children are also forced to the streets to work as beggars, sometimes the only alternative to working in labor. These boys and girls are abused, mutilated, and starved so bad by parents or their employer that they are forced to take up jobs like prostitution, construction or shoe shining. Some are forced to sell various items in all weather conditions for long, exhausting hours for very little income. Other children are recruited and forcefully taken from their villages to work in glass factories, matchbox factories and other industries. Kumari & Jafri say (2010), “According to recent estimates, almost 60,000 children are employed in the glass and bangle industry and are made to work under extreme conditions of excessive heat,” (p. 131). There is no doubt that all these children are frequently exposed to hazardous working conditions, high risk of injury, unpredicted weather and other forms of inhumane treatment. With India being home to the largest number of working children in the world, this issue isn’t just affecting the working children but future of the whole country.
Simply banning child labor entirely is not effective because of the problems in implementing the rules and regulations in societies where the institutions are extremely weak. However, it would make sense to reduce working times, increase children’s school hours by improving education system, and enforce the Bonded Labor system effectively and strictly. Historically, the most common approach to combating child labor was by creating policies that outlawed the activity. There have been many statues and laws preventing illegal labor in India, but they were never implemented successfully.
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