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The complex issue of child labour is a development issue worth investigating. The notion that children are being exploited and forced into labour while not receiving education crucial to development concerns many. India is the largest example plagued by this problem. Estimates cites figures 60 to 115 million working children in India—the highest number in the world.

The Number of Children Involved:

It is difficult to cite current figures because of the fact that Indian government has been negli­gent to collect and analyse proper data. The 1981 census reports that there were 13.6 million child workers in India. The government extrapolations of this 1981 data place the current num­bers between 17 & 20 million.


This extrapolations seems highly unlikely as “The Official National Survey” of 1983 reports 17.4 million child labourers while a study sponsored by the labour ministry puts the number at 44 million. UNICEF cites figures ranging from 75 to 90 million child labourers under the age of 14.

Although the number varies they are very high when considering that the Child Economic Activity rate for males was 13.5% and for females was 10.3%. In comparison to other develop­ing countries such as Sri Lanka and Malaysia which have lower activity rates: 5.3% for males and 4.6% for females in Sri Lanka and 8.8% for males and 6.5% for females in Malaysia.

The Activities of the Children:


The 1981 census of India divided child labour into nine industrial divisions:

(1) Cultivation

(2) Agricultural labour

(3) Livestock, Forestry, Fishing and Plantation


(4) Mining and Quarying

(5) Manufacturing processing & servicing

(6) Construction

(7) Trade & Commerce

(8) Transport, Storage and Communication

(9) Other services (Census of India, 1981).

The percentage distributions of these child workers by these industrial divisions shows that the majority of child workers (84.29%) are cultivation and agricultural labour. Urban child labour are distributed differently. 39.16% of them are involved in manufacturing, processing, servicing and repairs.

Although more children are involved in agriculture, human rights watch tends to focus on the manufacturing types of child labours, most children in these situation are bonded labourers. According to International Labour Organisation (ILO) (1992), the number of bonded labourer in India is close to one million.

The Scenario in West Bengal:


Now we are going to focus on West Bengal a State which is also facing this menace. Under the national policy on child labour of 1987, the government of West Bengal has introduced the National Policy on Child Labour in 6 districts Uttar Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Burdwan, Midnapore, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas for the rehabilitation of working chil­dren withdrawn from employment including hazardous occupations and processes to reduce the incidence of child labour.

The scheme envisages:

(a) Survey

(b) Awareness generation and


(c) Establishment of special schools.

The child reading in the N.C.L.P schools gets Rs 100 per month as stipends and a tiffin of Rs 2.50 per day. In 8 districts Child Labour – Rehabilitation- cum-Welfare Fund has been set up, where Rs 20,000 per child withdrawn from hazardous occupations has to be deposited by the employer and Rs 5,000 by the State.

In case the State Government cannot give employment to any of the guardians of the withdrawn child, the inter­est accrued on the fund is to be given to the guardian for their maintenance, education, welfare for the withdrawn child.

Let us now see how fare the N.C.L.P was successful. According to the census of 1981, out of a total work force of 3.39% the percentage of child employee was 2.47%. This figure rose to 4.4% in the 1991 census. Forget the N.C.L.P., after independence there were about nine acts aimed to reduce the incidence of child labour but without much success. The labour department is trying its best to curb the menace.


Inspite of a circular re-issued by the government, the top level bureaucrats are defying the rules. This was discovered by the “Times of India” few days back, the son of a departmental secretary staying at Salt lake admitted his father having em­ployed two children Aparna and Shashanka both aged under 14 as domestic help in their house­hold. A recent TV report on 24th July, 2001 shows the tragic scene of children engaged in the activity of animal play at Raygunge in 24 Parganas in spite of the prohibitation of such plays.

Child Labour and Literacy:

One of the most important problem associated with the problem is literacy. West Bengal is a State where the literacy rates are not quite satisfactory. A case study conducted by Indian Social Institute shows 55.82% of the children of 6 to 16 age group are not attending schools, but those children of upper castes and rich farmers were attending schools. The absentee children be­longed to the families of mainly landless agricultural labourers.

It indirectly proves that in rural West Bengal education was sole right of the children of upper castes and of the rich farmers. The situation though has improved today with the help of the NGOs and the government regu­lations like The West Bengal Rural Primary Education Act, 1969, it is not still up to the mark.

According to the study of Bhattacharya and Brown (1983) as development comes by it brings with it increased educational opportunities. This initially may have a pronatalist effect and lead to higher fertility in the family. Later, however, parents find that increased costs prevent them from educating all children. The added income in no way compensates for the low level of education to which these children are forever more condemned.

The Situation in Kolkata:


According to survey carried out by the census authorities in West Bengal, a large number of children immigrants have been coming to Kolkata from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The net im­migration being to the tune of 0.9% annually. The reasons are basically poverty (91.25%), communal disturbances, large size of family and social conditions. A survey in 1989 shows that there are 35,000 child workers in Kolkata aged between 10 to 16 years and 75% of them are illiterate. The 1991 census shows that in 54 wards there are about 985 illiterate child workers.

The following table shows the number of child workers of various age groups residing in Kolkata and their duration of stay:

Duration of stay and number of children

NGOs and Child Labour:

Whatever little effect we may have achieved is mainly due to the NGOs and other social or­ganisations.

The following is a list of some NGOs and their projects:



1. The Chantagara amongst Adviasi Mahila Samity (CAMS)

2. The Forum of Communities in Services (FOCUS)

3. The Institute of Psychological Education Research (IPER)

4. The Vivekananda Educational Society.

5. The Kolkata Social Project.



(1) Reducing and eliminating child labour in the tribals and Bankura district (1994-95)

(2) Combating child labour in the slums of Kolkata and Howrah (1992-93)

(3) Combating child labour in Kolkata through planned delivery of services (1922-93)

(4) An integral programme for combating child labour in Kolkata (1992-93)

(1) Combating child labour in Kolkata (1922-93)


(2) Promoting schooling as an alternative to child labour (1994-95)

Apart from these organisations there are other organisations which have done some excel­lent jobs in this field like:

(1) West Bengal “Chota Mazdoor Sabha” one of the affiliates of Hind Mazdoor Sabha with a view to eliminate child labour in the plantations

(2) Karimpur Social Welfare Society

(3) Unemployed Young Workers Society in Burdwan

(4) Bhogra Diamond Club in Burdwan

These organisations are assisted by the Grants-in-Aid provided by the Labour Department or the State.

The NGOs may be doing a lot of works, the Labour Department may issue several circulars but we, the common people, have to take the lead. Again the duty of the government does not end by making laws. They have to keep a strict vigil on the top level officials of the State or otherwise with the case of Aparna and Shashanka will be repeated again and again.

The em­ploying of child labour is a criminal offence because Article 24 of the Indian Constitution clearly lays down “No child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged m any other hazardous employment.”

In case of children, work is often a borderline between “work and play” and “work and apprenticeship”. This apprenticeship may contribute to the socialisation and acquiring techni­cal skills but when it is simply a device to obtain cheap labour apprenticeship hinders develop­ment as it indirectly specifies the direct exploitation inherent in child work.