According to the NSSO estimates, 50 lakh children are working in India, out of which the largest share of child labourer comes from Uttarakhand with 17.75 lakh children followed by West Bengal - 5.5 lakh, Rajasthan - 4.05 lakh, Gujarat - 3.9 lakh and Odisha - 3.78 lakh respectively. However these are only estimates and not conclusive figures. In Odisha, of the total child population in the age group of 5-14 of 86.34 lakh, 4.4 percent was engaged in various economically gainful activities and 94.4 per cent of them were engaged in rural areas. 1.10 lakh (29.1%) children were categorised as main workers while 2.68 lakh (70.9%) were marginal workers.
‘Enforcement of existing law is essential but Society has a vital role to play to stop child labour. Children should be given enough space and care to avail their rights. It is a fact that millions of children are denied their constitutional rights, whether it is the Right to (free and compulsory) education, prohibition from forced labour or employment of child labour in hazardous occupation. And we need to change the situation together' said Saraswati Hembram, Chairperson, Odisha State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (OSCPCR). She was addressing the State level Summit Against Child Labour today at IDCOL Auditorium jointly organized by Save the Children, Department of Labour & ESI, Govt. of Odisha and ILO. She appealed to all children present from districts to inform specific cases of child labourers to SCPCR to take action against the employers.
Speaking in the occasion, Latha Caleb, Director of Programmes, Save the Children expressed ‘Child labour free India is a dream for us and we do believe that it is not impossible. Engaging children in any form of labour is a violence against them. Even after India signed UN CRC in 1989, still the situation is unchanged as India is having the largest number of child labourers in world'. Welcoming the recent amendment of the Child Labour prohibition and Regulation Act (CLPRA) she further added ‘Although it's a complex issue and not so easy to find any instant solution, government should take immediate step to increase the upper age from 14 to 18 in accordance to the UN CRC'. The CLPRA 1986 bans child labour in hazardous work in the age group of 6-14 years, this also includes child labour in domestic work and in dhabas.
During the programme, Hemant Sharma, Labour Commissioner, Odisha launched a new website dedicated against child labour. Guests on dais also released a newsletter ‘Sishu Sampad' developed by the State Labour Institute. 7 children who were rescued and rehabilitated to the mainstream education system from Nuapada, Khurda, Bolangir, Keonjhar and Kandhamal have presented their testimonies on how they have been identified by their respective children's groups in their areas and were back to the school from the labour force. Guests and participants also visited the drawing exhibition by children from 10 districts on children's views on child labour.
Expressing his deep concern on a strong social protest against all forms of child labour Hemant Sharma said ‘With support from ILO, Government of Odisha has developed an Integrated Action Plan to eliminate child labour in convergence with all relevant departments and stakeholders. This is going to be implemented from this year'. He also called for raising voice against child labour by every person from any walks of life, which can be a possible solution to this social evil.
Among others, Souri Bandhu Kar, General Secretary, AITUC, Odisha and Kabita Paramanik, Asst. Labour Commissioner, Labour Directorate, Odisha spoke in the occasion. A number of children from districts, representatives from Employers' Organizations, Trade Unions, INGOs, NGOs, UN Agencies and Civil Society Organizations have participated the summit. Dr. B. B. Acharya, SPC-SRC, Labour Directorate, Odisha and Bharati Chakra, Advocacy Coordinator, save the Children have anchored the programme.
Save the Children Demands
• The amendment in new law should include Complete ban on child labour for children who have not completed 14 years of age.
• The amendment in child labour law should work as a deterrent, so the maximum punishment should be increased to three years, and the minimum penalty should not be less than Rs. 50,000 and it should be extendable to Rs. 2 lakhs.
• The Child Labour Law amendment must include provision for Rehabilitation of rescued child labourer.
• Government should immediately commission a survey to count the total number of child labour in India and plan their rescue and rehabilitation accordingly.