Worldwide, the latest UNICEF report from New Zealand estimates nearly 160 million children aged 5-14 are engaged in child labor – equivalent to half the population of the United States.
While New Zealanders watch their team compete in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, many children in India will never have the chance to represent their country.
It has been reported that some of these children have been working with their families as barefoot labourers, cleaning up trash on the Commonwealth games construction site.
Or else they toil on other building sites, in fields, in industries like cotton, glassblowing, fireworks and in carpet factories. Sometimes they have been sold to their employers by indebted parents. “Effectively some of these children are slaves - beaten if they don’t work hard enough, or prevented from leaving,” says UNICEF executive director Dennis McKinlay.
Many Indian children do not reach finish their schooling. There are currently an estimated 8.1 million children who are listed as out of school in India. Many of these work in dangerous occupations, frequently without adequate protective gear.
Some reports are of higher numbers – and in many other countries.
In the nearby State of Bangladesh, UNICEF’s 2009 State of the World’s Children Report says some 13% of children are engaged in child labour. In Sub Saharan Africa, it is one in three children, representing 69 million, and in South Asia, (including India) another 44 million.
Worldwide, the report estimates a total of 158 million children aged 5-14 are engaged in child labour – equivalent to half the population of the United States.
“These children are lucky if they have been to school at all. It is not necessarily their parents’ fault - but because they have been born poor,” he says.
Some children are more vulnerable to becoming child labourers than others. For example, girls are less likely to enrol in school than boys, with higher gaps for girls in lower castes and some particular tribes
“This is because of an attitude that a girl’s sole task is to become mothers – it’s a common problem in the developing world. UNICEF is trying to encourage the view that both sexes have equal rights, including the right to go to school, which is a major key to ending poverty,” he says.
Following the International Child Labour Conference in Oslo in 1997, UNICEF developed its Global Programme for the Elimination of Child Labour. As part of this programme 29 countries, including India have entered into preventative strategies against the practice.
UNICEF in India supports the ‘Joyful Learning Initiative’ which makes education more exciting and interesting. The project’s aim is for parents to come to value education over child labour, so that they are reluctant to remove children from school.
“Under the initiative schools become stimulating environments for children. The learning content is fun and relevant. Teachers undergo regular training to apply joyful, child centred and activity based approaches in primary schools.
A cause of child labour is the indebtedness that many rural families face.
Here UNICEF has established more than 1000 self-help groups – and is now playing a key role in reducing rural family’s indebtedness. Villages involved in this programme have seen a school enrolment rate of more than 90 percent and an increase in the age of marriage.
Another problem is that some families do not see young girls as needing an education – if their main role is to have children and do housework. Increasing the age of marriage helps here.
“UNICEF understands that the Indian Government wants child labour to end – and has been working with it for years – so that one day every Indian child will be able to exercise their right to a decent education.”
In April of this year India passed its Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) which “set this basic human right in stone,” he says.
“The Right to Education Act is a wonderful first step for India. But the reality for many ordinary Indian children, is still a very far way from being ideal.
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