Tiny Hands and The Rough Patches



“Child labour and poverty are inevitably bound together and if we continue to use the labour of children as the treatment for the social disease of poverty, we will have both poverty and child labour to the end of time”

— Grace Abbott

In India, according to Census definition a person below the age of fourteen is termed as children. Hence most of the government programs targeted for the children age group below fourteen years[1]. Child[2] Domestic labour in this paper refers to children involve in domestic work whether within their own household or others and working as helping hand in agriculture of family[3]. The many manifestation of child labor can be broken into seven main types these are: 1) domestic work, 2) forced and bonded labor, 3) commercial sexual exploitation, 4) industrial and plantation work, 5) street work, 6) work for the family and 7) girls work.[4]

Children in domestic servitude may well be the most vulnerable and exploited children of all, as well as the most difficult to protect. They are often extremely poorly paid or not paid at all; there is no account of their legal rights, they are deprived of schooling, play and social activity, and of emotional support from family and friends. They are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and if the child is a girl then their condition is worst. Even if sometimes not sexually abused, they suffer severe damage in terms of their psychological and social development[5], which further deteriorate their conditions and they continue to bond in life cycle poverty. Child domestic labour cannot be used as a tool for removing poverty as it deprives children from earning marketable or valuable capability and capability deprivation leads to absolute poverty. Hence Children become absolute poor in terms of capabilities.

Exploitation of children in domestic labour

There are many factors which direct a child to work as domestic labour, such as poverty where family simply cannot afford to keep child at home, so he/she is put out to earn, or it may be father is employed and he simply take along his family to help in order to maximize the benefits, third are families which cannot afford to keep them at home, so realize whatever financial value they may have on the market.[6] It may be blatant straightforward sale or it may be wrapped up, by way of adoption or marrying a girl child or parents are disabled to work after some incidence or from beginning then children are sent out to earn for family. There are other factors also which influence child domestic labour such as, rapid rural urban migration and because of prevailing social, cultural and political attitudes, large family size, illiteracy, cultural factor how children in big household treated in the family, gender factor[7] employers preference for hiring children over adults.[8]In such conditions children’s in small age are imposed to do adults work.[9] In all these conditions child is compelled to do labour for survival or for the sake of family survival.

In domestic service, children carrying out arduous work under conditions of isolation, over excessively long hours and with physical and sexual abuse, lack of leisure time activities and repression of childhood desires have harmful impact on the harmonious developments of a child’s personality. It also includes children prematurely leading adult lives, working long hours for low wages, under conditions damaging to their health and to their physical and mental development, sometimes separated from their families, frequently deprived of meaningful education and training opportunities that could open up for them a better future.[10] Which lead to gradual degradation of physical, psychological status of child and deprivation of capabilities. They are also subject to exclusion where they cannot relate themselves from the society at large.[11]

This phenomenon of child domestic labour is exploitative in nature because in this child is used as a means by employer or family to meet their own ends or development, whereas in that development there is no scope for children’s capability[12] development. The basic problem is child themselves cannot oppose or fight back these adverse conditions and they are extremely dependent on them, they have no other alternative to choose except to work or die. Hence we need to have strong government policies which protect can give support and other beneficiary alternative of rehabilitation, education for these poor children so that they can break through vicious poverty life cycle.

International Initiatives for child domestic labour

 In 1919, at the first session of International labour organization (ILO) adopted Minimum age (Industry) Convention, providing that there should be no employment in industry of those under age of 14 years. There are subsequently 14 ILO conventions on the subject of child labour.[13] The Minimum Age convention of 1973 extended the prohibition to all child labour. It is provided in the conventions that no child should be in full time employment under the age within that system of completing compulsory schooling, and in no case under the age 15. Between 13 to 15 are allowed to do light work but that should not prejudice his or her attendance at school or training. And convention provides that up to the age of 18, no one is to be jeopardizing his/her health, safety or morals.[14]

On the 20th November 1989, the General Assembly adopted unanimously the new convention. It consists of 54 articles. [15]A child is defined as “a human being below the age of 18. It should apply to all sections, sex, gender, religion, caste equally and thirdly it is provided that the primary consideration should be “best interests”. Best interest is not simply as interpreted by adults, there is provision that due weight should be given to the views of the child, of course in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.  It is specifically provided that child should have the right freely to express its views.

History of legislation

There are many legislations comes forth in the process of preventing child labour. It started with Factories Act 1881[16], The Factories Act (revised) in 1891[17], then came Mines Act 1901[18], The Factories Act 1911[19] and amendment of 1922[20]Karachi session of Indian national congress in 1931 highlights include children of school going age shouldn’t be allowed to work in factories or miles. Then in Whitely commission report of the Royal Commission on Labour (GOI, Calcutta, 1931) this commission recommended to fix the minimum age of employment of children at higher level and minimum age was fixed 12 years. Children (pledging of labour) Act, 1933 passed. Then Employment of children Act 1938.Employment of children Act 1939 was replaced by child labour(prohibition and regulation ) Act 1986. Important to note here is that none of the legislation include domestic child labour in the act, in every legislation children involved in manufacturing or hazardous industries are covered. Child domestic labour is never taken as issue which can be equally exploitative for a small child working in household’s conditions and lack of opportunity for primary education.

Child labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986 and 2006 Amendment Act

The child labour (prohibition and regulation) Act 1986 came into existence after lot of recommendations from different committees[21]. This act basically prohibits the child of age below 14 years working in manufacturing industries[22]. Unfortunately this act also doesn’t include the children’s working as domestic servant in households and hotels, dhaba, road side restaurants and children’s working in agriculture sector which is 75% of total child labour[23]. However children working as domestic labourer also suffers lot of exploitation which lead to vulnerability, but government has continuously ignored or either can be said as does not taken matter seriously to address.

There are many legislations which are drafted for children working in hazardous condition and mentioned the industries  where they are legally banned to work[24] but they doesn’t included domestic child labour as dangerous or exploitative in nature. According to the second school of thought of child labour[25] government thinks problem of child labour is vast and cannot be abolished totally.[26] From the above thought it can be understood from government of India regulations of Domestic child labour that it is following second school of child labour.

Then finally in 2006, amendment came into force from 26th October 2006 where Child domestic labour has taken into account[27] and child labour (Abolition and rehabilitation) act 2006 amended. But again this act is not adequate for putting bars for child domestic labour. Under section 4 of the act in proviso it is clearly mentioned that a child working in their own household or helping their own family in work with his will, would be excluded from the purview of banned domestic labour. But in this kind of proviso children who wanted to go for education and because of family problems render their services in household will not be inclusive in any kind of child development policy and they will be deprived of their equal opportunity for acquiring capability.

Secondly the problem of identifying the child domestic labour need to be addressed, as until child domestic labour can be identified they cannot be protected and the whole act will have no operation.

Thirdly, the prohibition is restricted to servants at home, hotels, dhabas and other recreation centers. It is not clear whether this applies to the household manufacturing sector, where a vast number of children are employed in similar working conditions. Again children employed in household manufacturing work are not included in 2006 amendment which falls under child domestic labour. If these sets of children are not taken into account in actual sense child domestic labour is not addressed at its full length and those children will continue to be subject of exploitation and capability deprivation.

Fourthly the conviction rate in under this act is continuously low. The conviction rate for the already existing Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986 is very low – so low, in fact, that it is hardly a deterrent for employers. As there have been 1,680 prosecutions launched against employers but not a single conviction has taken place.[28]

Problems such as, how to identify child domestic labour, as they can easily be hidden away by owners, gender issue, reasons compelling child to enter into domestic, other alternative such as rehabilitation, food security need to be addressed.  Just by making Child domestic labour as illegal without addressing the cause behind it will not take it too far. If child domestic labour is made illegal without taking into account all the causes of it and providing other alternative, the purpose of banning it will not be served, instead child domestic labour will become more invisible and increase the exploitation and child will be deprived of capability which in result lead to absolute poverty for poor children.

The Final Note:

Child domestic labour used as tool by employers and family members for their own benefits or survival. As employer or owner of house always has an option to hire an adult as a domestic servant but they choose a child instead because in that case they can manage a servant in low wages or no wages and can make him/her work at any time of hour, most importantly the child themselves cannot fight back against any kind of exploitation whether it is physical or psychological. These kinds of exploitation result in capability deprivation of child. Capabilities are inherently important for development in future.

Hence there is immediate need for state to intervene and come up with a sound legislation. However 2006 amendment in child labour(prohibition and regulation) act 1986 does not include all the aspects and which may result in making it more invisible and exploitative. Hence there is need of sound legislation for abolition of child domestic labour which will address the issues such as child involved in their own household domestic work, gender problem, provide other required alternative after removing them from child labour such as their capability development and rehabilitation. So that an opportunity to poor children for acquiring capability and come out of life cycle poverty can be given.

[1] Asha Bajpal “Child rights in India” Law, Policy and Practice, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press 2006, p.2.

[2] Child are a human child fall within the age of eighteen years. Initially it was set as 15 years according to Child Labour (abolition and rehabilitation) Act 1986 and Plantation Labour act 1951 , Mines act 1952, Motor Transport Workers Act 1961 and Merchant Shipping Act 1958. But recently amended in 2006 amendment in Child Labour (Abolition and rehabilitation) Act

[3] Neera Burra, Born to work: child labour in india,Oxford University Press Delhi.1998,p.31.

[4] Dolly Singh, “Child Rights and Social Wrongs “An Analysis of Contemporaray Realities” Volume-2 Violations of child Rights: Intiatives and institutions for reform; ed. Dolly Singh Kanishka Publishers, Distributers New Delhi.p.176

[5] Ibid.

[6] Dolly Singh “Child rights and Social wrongs: An analysis of Contemporary Realities”, Vol-2, Kanishka Publishers, P. 109.

[7] Rossana Galli ,“The Economic Impact of Child Labour”, University of Lugano, Switzerland.

[8] Employers prefer to hire child instead of adults because in that case they will take maximum work out of them without giving required wage and most importantly child can’t oppose it.

[9] Supra 7.

[10] Asha Bajpal,” Child rights in India; law Policy and practice” 2nd ed., oxford university press; The international labour organization, 1983.

[11] Dolly Singh,” Child rights and Social wrongs: An analysis of Contemporary Realities,” Vol-2 Kanishka Publishers, Distributors New Delhi. P. 158.

[12] Here, capability is refer to Martha NussBaurm list of capability, which include bodily integrity, bodily health, education, life, control over one’s environment.

[13]  Neera Burra, Born to work: child labour in india,Oxford University Press Delhi.1998,p.176.

[14] ibid

[15] Ibid.

[16] In this legislation first time age is fixed for employment, minimum age fixed was seven years and duration of employment that is fixed nine hours per day.

[17] In this revised act minimum age was increased from seven to nine years and hours of work fixed seven hours per day.

[18] This act prohibited employment of children under 12 years of age.

[19] This act prohibits 7:oo pm to 5:30 am, age certificate and required fitness for labour is made necessary condition to ponder on before taking as labour.

[20] Minimum age was set 15 years as general but changed the working hours from seven hours to six hours with break of half an hour.

[21] The National Commission on Labour 1969, the Committee on child labour 1979, the Gurupadswamy Committee on child labour 1976 and Sanat Mehta Committee 1984.

[22] Section 3, of prohibits the children below 14 years working as labour in manufacturing industries which are mentioned in Schedule Part A and part B.

[23] Asha Bajpal, “Child Rights in India; Law, Policy and practice”, 2nd ed. Oxford University press.p.173

[24] In Child Labour (Abolistion and rehabilitation) Act 1986, some occupations including many industries are mentioned in Part A and B of schedule under section3. Similarly in Plantation Labour act 1951 , Mines act 1952, Motor Transport Workers Act 1961 and Merchant Shipping Act 1958 different  areas are mentioned as hazardous.

[25] lakshmidhar Mishra, “Child labour in india” oxford university press 2000.p. 20.

[26] Ibid; Second school of thought: according to this school of thought the magnitude of problem is so enormous that the state will find it extremely difficult to create the environment and provide the infrastructure, logistical support and resources. This school of thought advocates a gradual, sequential and selective approach to the entire issues of out of school working children. They 1st wanted to concentrate on children’s working in hazardous places and release them through education, nutrition and skill training and subsequently non- hazardous occupation. They believe that total elimination of child labor is not possible and therefore advocate a dual approach of prohibition and regulation.

[27] Section 3: states that all kind of child labour and in section 4 of act states that ““Every concerned government shall ensure that no person employ a child for performance of(a) Domestic work;(b) Agricultural operations;(c)Construction activities and operations of transport industry;(iv) Work in shop, factory, any establishment or organisation; and (v) Manufacturing, trading or processing activity of any item.” Provided that any child may work at his own residence or perform any domestic work out of his volition. ”

[28] Data given by Kailash Satyarthi, who founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), one of India’s leading child rights groups,data is with regards to state of A.P.

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