Child labour is one of the major concerns of most developing nations. In a country with a mammoth population such as India, the concern is highlighted by the acute poverty of the masses. In 2001, about 12.6 million child labourers were employed in India of which about 2,53,491 were from Haryana (a massive rise from 1,09,691 in 1991). According to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986, children under the age of 14 may not be employed in hazardous occupations. In Haryana, the employment of children, however, in non-hazardous areas is rampant. Not only does child labour take away from children the opportunity to study and play, it gives rise to incidences of inequality, abuse of children, and health issues due to exertion and maltreatment. Children are one of the most vulnerable sections of society; by allowing child labour to flourish, the state administration has failed to protect this defenseless section.
One of the major areas of child labour employment in Haryana is the cotton picking industry. In Haryana, cotton farming is an important occupation in Fatehabad, Hissar, Jhajjar, Rohtak, and Sirsa. According to estimates there are about 3.58 lakh children employed in cotton farms across the state. Children are also sent to work in Punjab where over 5 lakh children work in cotton farms. According to data from 2008, 16% of labourers engaged in cotton picking across Haryana are children.
Apart from this, tea stalls, dhabas, and small eateries across the state regularly employ children less than 14 years of age. In most of these eateries, children are employed to serve food and clean utensils. They are grossly underpaid and barely manage two square meals. Besides, the living and working conditions of these children are deplorable. Employment of young children as domestic helpers and small industries such as manufacturing of matches, perfumes, and textiles, in brick klins, and other commercial establishments in the state is not uncommon.
Prevention and Rehabilitation
To dissuade child labour the state administration may need to launch a number of schemes through various ministries. Free or subsidised education for rehabilitation of child labourers and midday meal schemes have proven to be effective in many other states. A controlled system for compensation of families for the loss of income may also be envisaged for families to agree pulling children out of the active workforce and sending them to school.
Another key area of rehabilitation of child labourers is the maintenance of homes where destitute children may be provided, food, clothing, shelter, and allowed to study without resorting to work.
Policy Change and Awareness
The existing child labour concern is not a change that can be effected in a short while. Policy making is the key. The Government of Haryana needs to implement legislation supporting the Indian Child Labour Act. Implementation of legislation requires effective schemes to complement the National Child Labour Project. Creation of awareness at a grass roots level by educating village leaders and parents is important, especially about the necessity of sending girl children to school. The state is in need of massive awareness drives, in partnership with media and NGOs to instill the sanctity of childhood development and healthy growth of children. Schemes that have failed to curb child labour need to be immediately rethought and replaced with effective measures.
For the future of our state to be secure, it is important that the children of Haryana are given an environment conducive to their healthy growth. Education, entertainment, health, and security are prerequisites for the future generations to grow up to their optimum potential. The society of Haryana must soon get rid of the scourge of child labour.