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Child Labour: Nature, Concerns, Reasons & Elimination Measures

The childhood, a formative and tender age, is meant to be spent on activities conducive for the development of human mind and body. Such an environment can be provided to the children by making readily available to them facilities of qualitative education and training as well as sufficient time to play and rest. The situation on the ground, however, is quite dissimilar and discomforting. A significant number of children in this world are found to be spending their childhood in extremely different, even hostile, environments. Abject poverty conditions and sheer indifferent attitude of parents and even society force them to forego their childhood and become active in the labour market. No wonder children are found engaged in numerous work activities, from dawn to dust, to take out money and livelihood. And despite their tender age they are performing adult's jobs. Further discomforting is to observe that a number of child workers are engaged in activities where conditions of work are termed as harsh, exploitative and hazardous.

Moreover, a number of workplaces expose children to undesirable environments: smoking, drug addiction, crimes and other immoral pursuits are not uncommon features of working children. These all then have a negative effect on human development, attitudes and human capital formation.

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The use of child labour in the production processes, by and large, affects the quality of output and efficiency in the use of factor inputs. Further disappointing is the fact that the phenomenon of child labour contributes towards the perpetuation of poverty levels. First, it reduces the overall work opportunities available to adults. The availability and willingness of children to work on considerably lower wages thus deprives work opportunities to the adults. Such a practice is more prevalent in the small and micro enterprises, and numerous informal sector activities. Second, lower wages especially to adult members of the family force other family members, particularly women and children, to become active in the labour market and seek any work opportunity irrespective of wages and conditions of work. Third, these practices ultimately lead into a comparatively smaller income earned by a family, hence perpetuates poverty conditions. The glaring effect of such a situation, however, is on the health of the children. Further, their withdrawal from or non-enrolment in the education and training system adversely affects human capital formation.

Existence of child labour, thus, is a deplorable phenomenon and amounts to a sheer cruelty meted out to the children. Such a practice then, naturally, raises certain serious concerns. The ongoing debate on the child labour both in the developing and industrialised world is somewhat misplaced and quite oftenly lacks ground realities. Consequently, the measures suggested for the elimination of this problem ranging from legislation to make child labour illegal and banning the imports of goods produced by child labour or threatening to withdraw the generalised system of preferences from those countries found using child labour in the production process are somewhat off the mark. Even a distinction has not been clearly made between “child labour” and “child work.” While the former is essentially a situation where a child is confronted to work like adults, the latter refers to occasional work of a child at family enterprises and farms, and even some other places.

This paper makes an attempt essentially to fill some of these gaps. Based on the secondary sources and personal observations, it defines and discusses the magnitude of child labour and the income they earn, focuses on the different dimensions of concerns raised nationally and internationally, identifies the factors responsible for the existence of child labour and makes suggestions for effecting improvements. While making suggestions, an attempt is also made to inform about: a mechanism established for elimination and rehabilitation of child labour from the carpet manufacturing, and Grameen Bank of Bangladesh in tackling poverty issues which is also indirectly helping in the elimination of child labour.

Dr. Sabur Ghayur


Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.