New Delhi: At an age when it is critical to provide a solid foundation for any child , over 8 lakh children of 5 and 6 years are engaged in child labour in India. A large percentage, over 5 lakh of these children do not attend school. Majority of these young children are engaged in family based employments. When they should ideally be preparing themselves for their educational journey at pre-school or starting their schooling enrolled in primary education, they take up economic responsibilities stripping them of their right to develop, learn and play. The state data reflects the national figures, with Uttar Pradesh having the highest number of children in 5-6 age group engaged in labour (2,50,672). It is followed by Bihar with 1,28,087 children working in the said age group and Maharashtra where the number stands at 82,847. solid
Komal Ganotra, Director, Policy, Research and Advocacy, CRY, elaborating on these startling numbers says, “Early childhood is a critical period for children’s development as it lays the foundation of cognitive, physical, socio-emotional development, as well as lifelong approaches to learning. When children as young as five take up economic roles, it deprives them of a continuum of learning and development, their potential curbed at the initial step of their journey. It is essential to focus on this age group to ensure they have access to learning opportunities through Anganwadi Centres or pre-schools so not to hinder this continuum and integrate them seamlessly into schooling.”
The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), introduced with the intent of providing a strong base to these children is marred by limited reach as it covers only about 50 per cent of this population of children. At present, out of sanctioned 13,74,935 Anganwadi Centres 32,789 are yet to be operational.
With lack of access to these provisions, many children in this age group accompany their parents to their workplace or end up living with minimal care. Huge numbers of cases prevail where these children are forced to migrate with their parents and help in occupations such as working in brick kilns. High level of poverty and unemployment coupled with a lack of adequate social security net compel parents to allow their children to work, compromising their learning. It is ironic that the recent amendment in the child labour act with intent to ban engagement in any kind of labour for children under 14, allows children to work in family occupations; thus defeats the purpose of preventing these children to be exploited as labour.
“Even if they are enrolled in school, the burden of school along with work forces them to drop out”, adds Komal Ganotra.
While the decade 2001-2011 saw an overall 30% reduction (about 3.2 million) in working children in the age-group of 10-14 years, number of working children within 5-9 years increased by 0.68 million, an increase of 37% from 2001. Foundational years for children should be invested in so children are provided with safe, conducive environment where their abilities and capacities flourish lest they end up in labour. It becomes imperative that the Child Labour legislation bans engagement in labour for children under 14 in entirety, without the exception of children working in family based employments. We have witnessed how the implementation of RTE has significantly improved enrolment in the 6-14 age group. Bringing children in the age group of 3-6 years under the purview of the Right to Education Act will ensure continuum of learning and establish strong linkage to primary education. Apart from this, the ICDS, in its present set up needs to be strengthened to ensure universal access to care and preschool education for all children under the age of 6 years.