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Not all work is bad for children. According to social scientists most kinds of work are unobjectionable, if they are not exploitative. School boys delivering newspapers is a common sight in the USA and Canada. This activity benefits the child as he learns how to work, gain responsibility, and earn some pocket money. But if the child is not paid, the same work becomes exploitative.
Child Labour, consisting of children below 14 years of age, is defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as those type of work performed by children that deprives them of their childhood and their dignity, which hampers their access to education and acquisition of skills and which is performed under conditions harmful to their health and their development. Children are the greatest gift to humanity and the same gift is being misused for personal gains as child labour. They constitute 36% of India s population but a large majority of children in the age group of 5-14 years continue to remain in distress and turmoil. One in every five children below the age of 14 is a labourer. The flower (Child) withers before it blossoms.
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) 1997 State of the World s Children Report says: Children s work needs to be seen as happening along a continuum, with destructive or exploitative work at one end and beneficial work promoting or enhancing children s 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 child s development. Social scientists agree but draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable work differently.
International conventions define children as aged 18 and under. Individual governments may define child according to different ages or other criteria. Child and childhood are also defined differently by different cultures. In fact, children s abilities and maturity vary widely and, therefore, defining a child s maturity by calendar age can be misleading.
In 2000, the ILO estimated, 246 million child workers aged 5 and 17 were involved in child labour, of which 171 million were involved in work that by its nature is hazardous to their safety, physical or mental health, and moral development. Moreover, some 8.4 million children were engaged in so-called unconditional or worst forms of child labour, such as forced and bonded labour, conscription by military forces in armed conflict, trafficking, commercial, sexual and other forms of exploitation.
Magnitude of the problem
In India, child labour is exploitative in the extreme. Growing children are employed as domestic help and live in miserable conditions. They are low paid and sleep in staircases or on the road. Those employed by the roadside dhabas or teashops in the cities or on the highways likewise lead a life of deprivation and dreariness. Yet, if they do not take up this type of work, they face starvation and ill-treatment at home, even at the hands of parents and relatives. There are laws prohibiting child labour but in India the laws are seldom implemented.
More boys than girls work outside their homes. Increasingly, however, more girls are working in some jobs: for instance, as domestic maids. Being a maid in someone s house is risky. Cut
off from friends and family, these little maids can easily be physically or sexually abused by their employers and even by neighbours or unknown visitors.
Child labour is more a rural phenomenon than an urban phenomenon. Due to acute poverty poor families residing in rural areas send their children to urban areas for bread and butter. In urban areas, to survive in a cutthroat competition, manufacturers have lowered the real wages for adult workers in order to employ child workers on low wages. The problem is very much vast in its dimension. Children are forced to work in the most hazardous, unhygienic conditions, where they are vulnerable to many severe health problems.
Children in hazardous and dangerous jobs are in danger of injury a death. According to nd UNICEF, it is a myth that *1+ child labour is only a problem in developing countries. Children
routinely work in all industrialised countries, and hazardous forms of child labour can be found in many countries.  Child labour will only disappear when poverty disappears.  Only a very small proportion of all child workers are employed in export industries probably less than 5 per cent. Most of the world s child labourers actually are to be found in the informal sector selling on the street, at work in agriculture or hidden away in houses far from the reach of official labour inspectors and from media scrutiny.
Causes of Child Labour
In a country like India where over 40 percent of the population is living in conditions of extreme poverty, child labour is a complex issue. Following are some of the causes of child labour. First Extreme poverty is the chief cause of child labour. The children either supplement their parent s
income or are the only wage earners in the family. Second Child labour is deliberately created by vested interest to get cheap labour. Third Low level of parental education is also an important factor in determining the incidence of child labour. Fourth a majority of parents prefer to send their children to work rather than to school at the school-going age, primarily on account of their need for a supplementary income.
Measures to combat Child Labour
Child labour is a universal problem and as a citizen of India we must strive to take stern actions against child labour.
Role of NGOs: NGOs have an important role to play in the elimination of child labour. Government does not have the infrastructure to reach every section of the society and particularly the millions who work and live in remote areas. NGOs can act as a bridge between hard-to-reach areas and the government.
Role of Media: The role of media in elimination of child labour is one of the most important components of the process of total human development. The media should expose defaulting firms or business houses that clandestinely employ children and violate laws relating to child labour.
The government should give certain monetary or if need be non-monetary incentives to the families that live Below Poverty Line (BPL) to avoid child labour so that their children can be sent to school. Effective state intervention to eliminate inequities, including class and caste barriers to
employment and other opportunities in areas such as health and education, will put an end to child labour.
In our view, poverty is largely responsible for what is wrong with child labour; other causes are not as pervasive.