New Delhi, June 10, 2016 :

Close to 1.4 million child labourers in India in the age group of 7-14 years cannot write their names, analysis of Census data by CRY- Child Rights and You reveals. This means one in three child labourers in the said age group are illiterate. This is the grim reality of children who work for more than six months in a year. Even for children who support the family economy by working for less than six months in a year, which is very common in a country like India, the situation is equally, if not more, worse. A shocking 2 million of these marginal workers have compromised their education as well.

The situation is also reflected in the state figures. While 45% of child labourers in Bihar are illiterate, in Rajasthan and Jharkhand the figure stands at 40%. Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh also have about 38% child labourers as illiterate.

There is a high potential of early school leavers and those not learning at school to remain outside the world of employment. These children when they grow remain at a risk of not having secured jobs and thus remain trapped in the intergenerational cycle of poverty and deprivation. It is imperative to relook at what we as a nation are investing in our children’s education. We are approaching 6th Anniversary of Right to Free and Compulsory Education and it is crucial that state reviews its strategies in order to reverse this trend.

With the education indicators for these children plummeting, the reasons why we face this challenge needs to be addressed. India’s legal framework is based on the assumption that children can work and still be educated. The numbers stated earlier blatantly contradict this assumption and are evidence enough that this needs to change, for main as well as marginal child labourers. In 1992 when India ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a reservation was made in article 32, wherein the Government of India articulated that it would progressively ban all forms of child labour. Now, after 30 years since the Child Labour Law came into force, India has the opportunity to amend the law in favour of its children.

However, the proposed amendment in the Child Labour law leaves a glaring gap in the prohibition of labour for children under the age of 14. The new law also allows children in this age group to work in family occupations after school hours.

The Census 2011 data for children in labour, states that 6.5 million children in India in the age group of 5 to 14 years work in agriculture and household industries. This makes a staggering 64.1% of child labourers in this age group. CRY’s on ground experience reveals that a large number of children engaged in these occupations are working with their families, thus exempting them from the proposed ban. Allowing children to work in family enterprises is likely to have far reaching implications affecting not only their education and learning outcomes but also their health and overall development.

Komal Ganotra, Director, Policy and Advocacy of CRY says, “Working children and those working long stretches before and after school hours have issues of inattentiveness and tiredness in school, lesser attendance, lack of play time and social bonding after school which subsequently leads to drop out and hampers their growth and development. It is absolutely disheartening to see a 37% increase in child labourers in the category of 5-9 years in the last ten years. In tender years where they should be learning to hold a pencil, they are compelled to take up the burden of playing economic roles.”

Given our current structures of education and labour department and the existing social fabric, it is a matter of great concern to monitor children juggling economic roles while assisting in family employment post-school. This will go against the spirit of Right to Education which needs to be viewed as an equal opportunity to study and learn rather than just mandated hours of schooling. For the learning outcomes to improve our children thus needs to be exclusively in school and learning.

About CRY CRY – Child Rights and You (formerly known as Child Relief and You) is an Indian NGO that believes in every child’s right to a childhood – to live, to learn, grow and play. For over 30 years, CRY and its partners have worked with parents and communities to ensure Lasting Change in the lives of more than 20 lakh underprivileged children. For more details please get in touch with Nupur Kaul, , +91 9958358883