One In Every Three Child Labourer In India Is Illiterate

Breaking away from the fetters of child labour was not an easy task for Naveen Kumar who hails from a small village at Madanpally, Andhra Pradesh. But he was among the fortunate few who had someone reach out to him and offer a helping hand.

And, thus, at the age of 12, Naveen went on to win a national award from the Ministry of Science and Technology for inventing an eco- friendly, cost effective mechanism to cook food.

M Mohanapriya from Salem, Tamil Nadu was earlier a child labourer. She belonged to a family which was under bonded labour for generations. It opened a new chapter in her life when she became the first girl to pass 10th class from the Arundhatiyar community, often considered to be the lowest among the dalits. Now, she dreams of becoming an IAS officer.

Given a chance, these marginalised children can do wonders. But the burning question is: Whether the nation offers children like them, a conducive environment to flourish?

An analysis of Census data by CRY- Child Rights and You reveals that around 1.4 million child labourers between the age-group 7 and 14 cannot write their names. “It means that one in every three child labourers in the country is illiterate. Worsening the situation is India’s legal framework which is based on the assumption that children can work and still be educated. The proposed amendment in the Child Labour law allows children under the age of 14 to work in family occupations after school hours. Allowing children to work in family enterprises is likely to have far reaching implications affecting not only their education and learning outcomes but also their health and overall development,” said Suma Ravi, Regional Director, South, CRY.

According to the Census 2011 data for children in labour, around 6.5 million children in India in the age group of 5 to 14 years work in agriculture and household industries. This makes a staggering 64.1% of child labourers in this age group. CRY’s on ground experience reveals that a large number of children engaged in these occupations are working with their families, thus exempting them from the proposed ban.

Result? Working long stretches before and after school hours affects the overall development of a child. He/she will not be able to be attentive in class, resulting in their not being able to keep up with the rest of the class. Absenteeism becomes the norm. Since play time is short, there will be little time for social bonding. Eventually, the child will be forced to drop out of school. This is also against the spirit of Right to Education which envisages equal opportunity to study and learn rather than just completing the mandated hours of schooling. It is a matter of concern that there is 37% increase in child labourers in the category of 5-9 years in the last ten years.