The National Advisory Council (NAC) has recommended a blanket ban on child labour. That is an ideal solution. That is in the best traditions of liberal democracy and human rights practiced in the most advanced nations of the west. But how relevant is it to Indian reality? Is it realistic in the current context? Can it be effectively implemented? Would such a ban help all children or would it make conditions worse for those belonging to the most impoverished sections of society? In addressing these issues policy makers need to empathize with Indian reality and not blindly ape the west. In the era of Charles Dickens there was child labour in Britain. With prosperity and eradication of acute poverty it is now banned. How far has acute poverty been removed in India? Should we not seriously consider radical reform of child labour before announcing an outright ban that cannot be implemented?
There is no doubt that all, repeat all, children under fourteen must have access to education. If circumstances compel them to work the hours of work must be limited. The nature of work must be appropriate. Facilities for education while they work must be delivered. All this must be mandatory. It may sound very heartless to even consider such aspects to justify child labour in exceptional cases. But is a starving non-working child happier than one who is fed and has to work in humane conditions under strict watch of authority? The strongest argument against child labour being advanced is that children should not be denied their childhood. That is essential.
However, one would like to ask whether the growing number of very young children who undergo grilling rehearsals before completing TV ads that rake in money for their parents are working or not. Do such children lose part of their childhood or not? Surely child labour is not acceptable because it is profitable! This is just one example. If rich parents who can afford their children not working do so to make money and develop the talent of their offspring, may not poor parents who desperately need income to feed their children be allowed to do the same?
One is not favouring child labour. All one asks is to consider the issue from three standpoints.
- Can a total ban on child labour be practically implemented?
- Is it possible to introduce reform for exceptional cases to make child labour humane?
- Would a total ban on child labour in some cases help or harm the child’s future?
The NAC might with advantage reappraise its decision to impose a total, blanket ban on child labour.