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Tackling child labour in India

A new report published by a leading child rights group in India estimates that cheap child labour could be netting Indian employers around 27 billion dollars annually.

The organisation Bachman Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) undertook a study into a range of sectors, such as mining, textiles and the service/hospitality industry and found that the use of child labourers at rates well below the minimum wage is allowing unscrupulous employers to maximize their profits.

Under the Child Labour Act passed in 1986, children are banned from working in factories, mines and other perilous jobs. And in 2006, the Indian government added the service/hospitality sector and home-based work to the list of areas where children below the age of 14 years are prohibited from working. However, according to child rights groups, there have been few prosecutions and even fewer convictions.

Government data puts the number of Indian children in work at around 12 million, though other agencies suggest the figure may be far higher. For example, UNICEF recently estimated the child labour rate in India at 12 per cent or 29 million child workers. The Indian government recognizes the huge challenge it faces in this area. Since 2004, it has embarked on a push to eliminate the worst forms of child labour under the INDUS (India-US) Child Labour Project, run in conjunction with the US and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Under this project, a 40 million dollar initiative is targeting children aged 9-13 years across 20 districts in four major states.

Some regions are also spearheading their own local action. For example, in Karnataka State, the issue of child labour has been taken up by 400 trade unions as part of their regular work. Karnataka State has also adopted a household-based approach to tackling the problem. Working with self-help groups, such as women involved in micro-finance schemes, the authorities have trained the groups to indentify households where children are involved in hazardous work. The group then helps families to get in touch with appropriate social welfare schemes as a first response, calling in local school officials and other welfare bodies if this fails. Karnataka State has found that this type of community response resolves 90 per cent of child labour cases. This leaves only 1 in ten cases where the authorities have to become involved, deploying labour or factory inspectors to rescue children or bring prosecutions of employers. Social experts believe that if more states adopted this kind of low-cost and scalable community-based approach, the number of people profiting from child labour could be massively reduced.

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