The child labour in India is a national as well as local problem. Despite the Government’s effort to eradicate the child labour from Indian society, it seems fair to say that today the number of child labour is increasing year by year. Child Labour, by and large, is a problem of poor and destitute families, where either parents cannot afford education of their children or have to depend on the earnings of their children. The prevalence of child labour is blot on the conscience of society. The problem of child labour in India may seem to result from traditional attitudes, urbanization, industrialization, migration, lack of schools and other social and economic reasons. The grave cause of this problem is extreme poverty. Alfred De Souza and the UNICEF have observed that India is said to have the largest number of world’s working children. There are many estimates of child workers in India varying widely among different sources.
Each child is an asset to the society and the future welfare of society is closely related with the welfare of the child. A child in any society is one of its important pillar on whom the future structure of that society is to rest. It is the society as a whole which makes the total life of the child. Society comprises of the family, neighbours and other individuals living around. The child acquires all the characteristics of his/her personality from whatever he/she sees, learns and experiences from the surroundings.
The upbringing of the child, the growth of its personality, attitude towards life depends upon the background of the family, social-economic status of the parents and the emotional security that he/she receives from them. The harmonious relationship among the members of the family, particularly father and mother plays a major role in shaping the child’s behavioural pattern and life style. The social and economic well being of the family enables the heads of the household to provide educational facilities, medical care and other basic necessities along with an affectionate and sympathetic atmosphere.
When the child is not provided with facilities for proper development, he is bound to go astray in order to get sufficient attention and recognition for himself. At times, the child needs more than the basic necessities of life, like love affection and care which he is not able to get in his own family due to a number of reasons. It is then, that the child feels insecure and leaves his kith in order to find satisfaction elsewhere.
Once the child leaves the home, is entirely on its own with no support whatsoever. He/she has to start the life all alone apart, and all this a child does just to establish his/her own identity and to find the security and recognition which he was unable to get from his own family. While leaving home, the child realizes the little problem that many come across in the way and the struggle involved. But once the child runs away from his home, there is no going back and the child ultimately turns out to become a street child with a tough and hard life full of struggles at every step leading to the complete destruction of his/her personality.
The phenomenon of street children is now a challenge to development and welfare activity committed to the welfare of the vulnerable groups especially in urban areas. The street children in the age group 6-14 years, working in dhabas, small tea shops, household, as supporting workers with their parents or engaged in self-employment activities, like shoe-shine boys, news paper and milk vendor, rickshaw pulling, selling water, vegetables or fruits etc. Poverty stricken economically weaker section of parents usually take loans or money to meet their family obligations and handover their children to wealthy persons or businessmen to take work from them in their homes or shops or as they like to utilize their services. These children works like bonded labour. These children have no freedom of movement, no freedom of expression or any legal right against exploitations by their masters. Most of the street children are from rural areas particularly from lower strata. They come to or rather runaway to nearby cities or town in illusion to better living. These street children to have dreams but slowly these are shattered by the cruel realities of life. Most of these children have very pathetic life. The street children faces an extremely uncertain future. There is an air of hardness among the large number of these children unusual for their age which seems to suggest that these boys lack emotional responses. Among the most of the children who have undergone turmoil of their life are cogently grave nature, which yet might have flowered in more amicable conditions.
The street children suffer from lack of emotional, social and economic security. They are actually deprived of proper parental care and affection which affect the smooth development of their mental and physical health. They are perpetually in a state of phobia with the result that they either become abnormal, very shy, hesitant or become unruly, indiscipline and prone to delinquency.
The street children have no facilities for education. Their diet lacks nutrition and they have no facilities for medical check-up or health care. The children are forced to join the labour force out of sheer economic necessity of their families. They cannot be withdrawn from employment as that would deprive their families from the means of survival which those children provide out of their earnings howsoever meagre they may be. Children are preferred by the employers for their cheap labour and higher efficiency and also for being easily amenable to exploitative practices of extracting work. Basically they are made to do such jobs which are more time consuming but less skill oriented. Girls are preferred as domestic servants for self-employment activities and begging the distraction are supposedly few. Street children involved in all type of engagement suffer with the prolonged working hours, low wages, insufficient leisure time and no weekly holidays. In all cases the children are neglected, harassed and humiliated on the slightest pretext by their employers, policemen and local eating joints (dabhas).
Some of the children engaged in economic activities to save money which they deposit with their parents, friends or with their employers themselves which is most often not available on demand. Consequently, the children feel a sense of disappointment, and in some cases a feeling of being cheated and of mistrust.
In spite of their hard work for long hours and low wages, the children live in slum houses, or at railway platforms, footpaths etc. which are dirty unhygienic with no facility of toilets, fresh air, fresh water etc. The children develop the attitude of frustration, emotional insecurity and fatalistic behaviour making them indifferent to joy and sorrow of life. At times, the boys become shy, hesitant and cold towards the good and bad behaviour of employees, parents, their brothers and sisters.
Policemen, local thoughts and evil employers not only extract money from street children but do not hesitate to exploit them for sex abuse too. Most of these street children have never been given the future thought. In natural course of events they would have grown upto become a farmer they are now confronted with the unwelcome possibility of migrating to the city of lead a soulless existence and later to work.
No concerted efforts have so far been made despite forty years of planned development aimed to bring about social justice, equitable distribution of income, equality of opportunity, etc. for the amelioration of the lot of neglected and abandoned children so that they may grow into useful citizen of society contributing their mite for the overall development of the country. The Department of Women and Child Development in both the Centre and State Governments, several voluntary and international organizations have been making laudable efforts towards this end. But in view of the magnitude of the problem the efforts proved to be merely a drop in the ocean. Under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) of Government number of initiatives has been taken to protect these children from exploitation and have given special care to improve their conditions in the State of U.P. The local bodies, voluntary organizations, autonomous bodies like Indian Council of Child Welfare and a few orphanages have come forward to provide shelter and help these children in rehabilitation, but their efforts are very limited and insufficient. The institutional programmes for these street child labourers have very little impact on the these children.
The problem of child labour prevails in our country despite various constitutional and legal provisions against it. Article 24 of the Indian Constitution, a fundamental right, decrees that children below the age of 14 should not be employed in a factory, mine or any other hazardous occupation. Two directive principles, Article 39(e) and (f) and Article 45 are relevant. There is a series of preventive legislation, most important being the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986. Other major statutes dealing with the child labour are the Factories Act, the Minimum Wage Act, the Employment of Children Act 1938 and the Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933. The Constitutional perspective of these laws and restrictions did not completely ban the child labour but prohibited in the factories, mines and hazardous jobs. These social legislations are neither widely applied nor enforced for the welfare of innocent children in the court of law.
The Government Department or NGO’s should come forward to provide the facility of vocational training to the street children. The street children have potential for creative tasks. To develop this potential fully they require informal education and vocational training. This may enable them to increase their earnings and contributes towards the amelioration of poverty.
Some NGO’s representatives, or banking institutions should formulated a scheme of taking care of street children savings so their money will safe and children can get it back when required. This is all the more necessary because left to themselves with their savings the children develop a habit of wasteful expenditure such as going to movies, gambling etc.
Some willing families and members of non-government organizations should come forward and adopt the street child labour so that they may get social and economic security apart from proper care and affection.
To conclude I appeal to each and every section of society that don’t neglect these innocent street children wandering on the every nook and corner merely as vagabonds. Even your sympathetic glance is good for nothing. Do consider him like your own children. The day you will give them a little love they will certainly bloom to become pride of our nation.