Background of Child Labour
The evil of child labour has been in existence from time immemorial. It has been shown its prevalence from ancient Indian Period to the modern or industrialised era. The problem relating to child labour varied in its nature and dimension on the socio economic structure of the society in every period. But due to the rapid urbanisation and industrialisation now it becomes very complex and crucial nature, which resulting in social disorganisation. It is however, not to be supposed that child labour was non-existent in the country before.
Labour has been helping the socio-economic development of human beings and social evolution from the primitive animal stage of man to modem civilized society. Without labour, production is inconceivable. It is the principal creator of all the wealth possessed by the human society. Labour is the great creative force. Technology improves labour productivity. Child labour is an integral part of labour force, especially in poor countries. They have to enter the labour market at an early age. The owners of means of production in poor countries exploit these children. Because of their tender age these children cannot do anything for the injustices meted out to them by the owners.
Meaning of Child Labour
The definition o f child labour is not uniform all over the world. It is also by no means the same in all statutes that refer to the employment of children. But, for understanding the concept of child labour let us examine some of the important definitions-
Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences defines child labour as When the business of wage earning or of participation in itself or family support conflicts directly or indirectly with the business of growth and education the result is child labour.
According to Second Law Commission on Labour, Children out of home away from family, working for wages and the place of work unfriendly and unsuitable for their wellbeing are child labour.
Census of India covers a wider definition and says, Any child engaged in productive work, with or without compensation, wages or profit is child labour.
Government of Andhra Pradesh, defines, All children out of school are child labour. The definition explains that being out of school is equal to the worst form of child labour. It may be termed as hazardous, intolerable circumstances and harmful to the overall growth and development of the child. The government has notified Education Department as the nodal department to deal with elimination of child labour.
UNICEF suggests, Childrens work needs to be seen as happening along a continuum, with destructive or explorative work at one end and beneficial work-promoting or enhancing childrens development without interfering with their schooling, recreation and rest- at the other. And between these two poles are vast areas of work that need not negatively affect a childs development.
According to ILO, child labour is a work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and one that is harmful to their physical and mental development. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children, or work whose schedule interferes with their ability to attend regular school; or work that affects in any manner their ability to focus during school or experience healthy childhood.
The Committee on Child Labour stated that Child Labour can broadly be defined as that segment of child population in work either paid or unpaid. In 1980, a study on child labour was conducted in Bombay. In that study, Singh and others held the view that child labour means a working child who is between 6 and 15 years of age and who cannot attend school during the day, as he has to work under an employer or has to learn some trade as an apprentice.
In India, various laws have been enacted on child labour. The definition of child labour in these Acts varies from one Act to another. The precise age of what constitutes child labour has not been laid down anywhere because of variations in the age of child as given under different legislative enactments.
Under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939, child has been defined as a person under the age of eighteen years.
As per the Plantation of Labour Act, 1951, originally Section 2(c) provided that Child means a person who has not completed his fifteenth year. Section 24 of the Act laid down that, No child who has not completed his twelfth year shall be required or allowed to work in any plantations. By Section 24 of Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, the word fifteenth used in Section 2(c) was substituted by the word fourteenth. The Act omitted Section 24 of the Plantations Labour Act, 1951.
In the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, employment of children below the age of fourteen years as seamen has ordinarily been prohibited. Persons below eighteen years cannot be employed as trimmer and stokers.
According to the Motor Transport Workers Act, 1961, child means a person who has not completed his fourteenth years. Section 21 of the Act provides, No child shall be required or allowed to work in any capacity in any motor transport undertaking. Section 22 lays down that no adolescent shall be required or allowed to work as a motor transport worker in any motor transport undertaking unless-
(a) a certificate of fitness granted with reference to him under Section 23 is in the custody of the employer and
(b) such adolescent carries with him while he is at work, a token giving a reference to such certificate. Adolescent according to the Section 2(a) of the Act, means a person who has completed his fourteenth year, but has not completed his eighteenth year.
According to Section 2 (b) of the Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act 1966, Child means a person who has not completed fourteenth year of age. Section 24 of the Act provides, No child shall be required or allowed to work in any industrial premises.
The Mines (Amendment) Act, 1983, provides that no person below eighteen years of age shall be allowed to work in any mine or part thereof.
It is clear from all the definitions, that child labour must be prohibited but child work should be appreciated. Whether or not particular forms of work may be called child labour depends on the childs age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries. The answer varies from country to country, as well as among sectors within countries.
Status of Child Labour in India
Children have been engaged in works since ancient times. Conditions of child labour in different ages are discussed below.
Child Labour in Ancient India
In the Ancient Indian Period there is no direct evidence of the child labour. But due to the system of slavery which was in existence at that time, it cannot be denied that the child labour in the form of child slavery could be in prevalence. Because children slaves were born as slaves and died also as a slave unless the master was pleased to monument them.
The institution of slavery existed in Ancient India. It operated in much milder form than in the ancient civilisations of West. In Ancient Period a free man (i.e. arya) could become a temporary slave if he failed to pay a fine or the costs of a law suit or if he was carried off in a raid. An Aryan became a permanent slave only when he himself sold in person. In fact; there was no caste of slaves as such because servitude was not in the nature of Aryans. The persons belonging to all castes could become slaves. Similarly if a man left his caste to enter a monastic order and then left the order or never entered it, he became a slave of the King.
In ancient time, people were food gatherers or hunters. At that time they were helped by their children. When people started cultivation, the children used to help them in comparatively lighter jobs. Though the children worked at that time also, they worked under the guidance of their parents or other relatives. So, the question of exploitation did not arise. Instead they could learn the works through observation and association and thus they could develop interest in work and derive pleasure out of it.
With the increase of density of population and the subsequent fall in the required objects of labour, there emerged the need for development of technology. The division of labour was not only based on simple natural differences, but also, to some extent, on the functional needs of the community. Children participated in different works, but no value was attached to their contribution. More intensive methods of agriculture by invention or adoption resulted in the generation of surplus. Help of servants also had to be taken by the people to look after their animals. Children were engaged to assist the elders, but no material value was attached to their labour in productive activities.
While there is little detailed information on the functioning of the pre-feudal societies, there has been substantive research on the later periods. Under feudalism, obligation was laid on the producer by force and independently of his own volition to fulfil certain economic demands of the feudal lords. The transitory semi-feudal mode emerged with the commodity production. Exploitation was carried out through the control of land and credit. Large segments of the population were engaged in not only subsistence production, but also unpaid labour, bondage and gifts. They constituted an important supply of reserved labour during the peak agricultural seasons like replanting and harvesting.
Child labour has been prevalent more or less in all periods of time, though varied in its dimensions, depending on the existing socio-economic structure of the society. In the past, the child labour was a part of the social organization in which all members pooled their labour to produce for the subsistence and survival.
Child labour has been regarded as an evil in India since time immemorial. In ancient India, life of the people was divided into four ashramas, namely, Brahmacharya, Garhasthya, Banaprastha and Sanyas. In the Brahmacharya period, the children were sent to the hermitage of the Gurus (learned sages), which were actually residential schools, to learn under the guidance of the guru. There they had to participate in the domestic chores of the household as well as the ashrama. Though these schools did not charge any fees from the students, but they were expected to contribute their labour towards the running and upkeep of the Institution. In this respect, no discrimination was made between the children of royal lineages and common people. Ramayana, the great Indian epic reveals that Rama, a human incarnation of Vishnu of the Hindu Trinity and his brothers were sent by their father Dasaratha, the king of Ayodhya, to the hermitage of Vashistha. Apart from getting education there, they also helped the Guru in his domestic works and economic pursuits like collection of fruits and other eatables.
Though the children were engaged in some domestic chores in ancient India, in no way they could be termed as child labour as the actual aim of engaging them in those works was to make the children fit for bearing the responsibilities which they would have to take up in their future life.
Employment of children in the form of slavery was mentioned even in Kautilyas Arthashastra of 3rd century B.C. It describes the existence of domestic slavery in many prosperous households where slaves were normally from low castes. He recommended various kinds of punishments for selling or keeping a minor Arya individual as a pledge. However, he felt that it was not an offence for foreigners or tribals to sell an offspring or keep it as a pledge.
Kautilya also realized that slave children were not much different from Arya children and that they were not physically fit to carry out the ignoble duties of slaves and that allowing the sale or purchase of slave children of less than 8 years of age would tantamount to inhumanity. Inspired by such feelings, he prohibited the purchase or sale of slave children of less than 8 years of age. This is how Kautilya sought to do away with the butchery of childhood which might have been rampant prior to his days. Though Kautilya had forbidden taking of ignoble and low work from slave children, yet the treatment meted to them could not be described as exemplary, for freedom and equality of opportunity were often denied to them.
In the Cholas period there was evidence of women either selling themselves or else being sold by a third party. Many such persons were sold to the temple. The use of slave labour for large scale production was not known. Apart from the slavery, in addition to taxes the State in Ancient India extracted forced labour. The State held that the poor people, who could not afford to pay taxes in cash or kind, should also make some contribution to the State in return for the protection accorded to them. The most convenient way to make the contribution was through the free service to the State. Usually, such people were required to work for the State free for one or two days in a month. While they worked for the State they were fed by the State.
Another evil which was formed in Ancient India was the devadasi system. Every important temple had a number of unmarried girls dedicated to the service of the deity. This bred corruption and prostitution became common. This is led to moral degeneration among the upper and the middle class people. Abu Zayd and Al-Biruni also observed this system during their visit to India. Kalidasa refers to these devadasies in the temple ofMahakala at Ujjain. In these temples a large number of devadasies were employed not only to serve the deities but also to attract visitors who were also source of income.
Besides temple-girls, there was another class of women who were engaged in the regular prostitution. These classes of women were noted for beauty and the art of singing and dancing. This is an old institution and may be traced to every early time in our history. Kings and rich people kept concubines.
From the above evidences it has proved that in the Ancient India child laboures did exists in the form of slavery, forced labour, devadasi or prostitutes. But they were treated humanely and liberally.
Child Labour in Medieval Period
Child labour in medieval India remained in existence on a large scale and even the rulers encouraged it with an intention to make traffic in child slaves. The child labour was found in the form of child slavery and the rulers did not endeavour to weed out this practice and hence the result was that child was always exploited for this selfish end.
In medieval period children were mainly placed as trainees under artisans and craftsmen. The tradition still continues in carpet weaving and cotton and silk weaving industries, which provide employment to large number of children even today.
Child Labour in Modern India
In the Eighteenth Century the practice of slavery increased with the coming of the Europeans in India particularly the Portuguese, the Dutch and English. The European Companies purchased slaves in open market. There were reports of Europeans at Surat, Madras and Calcutta purchasing slaves and employing them for domestic work.
The East India Company was mainly a trading company. It came in India with the object of trading. The Industrial Revolution in England gives birth to a new class of manufacturer. They protested against the Companys monopoly in India. By the Charter of 1818, the trade monopoly of the Company came to an end. Trade with India was thrown open to all British subjects. India became an economic colony of England. The need of the British economy decided the British economic policy towards India. Indias raw materials were taken to England and the finished goods were imported into India.
In the Nineteenth Century many children were employed in various industrial sectors such as cotton and jute mills, coal mines and various factories, etc. Thus the condition of child worker became critical and worse in Modem period.
Apart from all the above situation British Parliament abolished slave trade in 1807, Lord Cornwallis had already forbidden the sale and purchase of children in 1789. In 1811, imports of slaves were declared illegal. The Government itself took initiative and passed India Act 5 of 1843, which permitted the slaves to claim their freedom. But the Act did not make immediate emancipation compulsory nor did it make any provision for payment of compensation from the owners. The Indian Penal Code enacted in 1860 prohibited all trade in or keeping slaves. This is an eloquent testimony to the moral sense evoked by legislation of India.
The measures adopted in Modem Period to deal with the child labour may be categorised under the two main heads:-
Children have always been used in economic activities. In pre-capitalist societies including India, children had been employed in guild and in trade occupations. In these societies their workplace was an extension of the home and the work relationship was informal relationship. The child grew up and found work within the family environment where the child was not given hazardous and difficult task. Work was a central aspect of their socialization and training, This conception, however, underwent a dynamic change with the advent of capitalism in the industrialization during the 18th century and the child labour began to be designated as a social problem. The new economic forces unleashed by capitalism destroyed the family based economy, a large number of labourers were displaced due to mechanization of agriculture- the farmers were alienated from their home based work place. They became wage-earning labourers. Extreme poverty made possible a situation in which the child had to be introduced in the labour market. Lack of alternative employment for adults and lack of education for children reinforced this process.
The mechanized large-scale production was started from the middle of the 19th century. During that period, state regulations were lacking over the conditions of employees in industries. The employers were free to bargain with labour. Therefore, the employers, for their benefits, exploited the labour. Many children were employed in cotton and jute mills and coalmines. They were even employed for underground work. Gradually, public attention was drawn towards the evil done on the child labour.
In 1881, the first law was enacted to protect the child labour. The Act was Indian Factories Act, 1881. This Act forbade employment of children below 7 years and also in two separate factories on same day. Moreover, it made provision for maximum working hours in a day and compulsory holidays and rest intervals. This Act, however, covered only factories employing 100 or more persons. There was no provision for enforcement machinery.
On the recommendation of a factory commission appointed by the Government of India in 1890, Indian Factories Act was passed in 1891 which was an advance over the Act o f 1881. In this way, different Acts were enacted in the pre-independence period relating to the employment of children in various sectors, but these Acts failed to achieve their goal of elimination of the evils of child labour. The Labour Investigating Committee, in its report in 1946, pointed out that the main cause of the failure of these laws was the inadequacy of the inspecting staff to enforce the provisions of these laws.