In a country in which 10.1 million children (aged 5-14 years) are forced to work, a government-backed service like Childline is no small succour—reports of child labourers being rescued via Childline complaints feature regularly in the news.
In a country in which 10.1 million children (aged 5-14 years) are forced to work, a government-backed service like Childline is no small succour—reports of child labourers being rescued via Childline complaints feature regularly in the news. But, at the very best, a Childline addresses just the symptoms of a chronic malaise. While some 217 million children under the age of 14 are in paid work and even bonded labour around the world, Unicef believes India’s child labour population is the highest among nations where this is prevalent. The country has enacted laws banning child labour and there exist mechanisms to enforce the ban, Childline being one such. But, for an effective policy response, it is imperative to address crushing poverty that pushes children into paid and unpaid work at an age when they should be in schools.
To some extent, measures such as mid-day meals in government schools—this takes some of the pressure off poor parents to provide for their children—and the EWS quota under the Right to Education law have managed to curb child labour. With better access to education, the prospect of children, and their families, escaping crushing poverty improve vastly. The government therefore should fine-tune these efforts to ensure that an increasing number of children benefit from enrolment and education. The proliferation of high-quality budget private schools is thus a huge positive.
More, and crucially, better quality, government schools can complement this. At the same time, the government must ensure increased financial assistance for poor families to educate their children. Meanwhile, shifting the focus of education policy from enrolment to educational outcomes should help ensure a better future for children who could otherwise end up as child labourers.
However, the biggest boost to countering child labour will come from growth-friendly policies—high growth will help lift families out of poverty, making them less reliant on child labour to supplement household income, and will also allow children from poor families to even pay for quality education that can be the passport to an economically secure future.