It’s time for India to tackle poverty and child slavery
March 15, 2014 Updated: March 15, 2014 18:09:00
India may have set its sights on Mars and is aspiring to become a key global player, but its ambitions are in stark contrast to some of the realities it faces. One of the most shocking truths has come to light with the Global Survey Index mentioning the country as being home to half of the world’s modern slaves. This slavery ranges from severe forms of intergenerational bonded labour to forced and servile marriage, the worst forms of child labour and commercial and sexual exploitation.
In 2012, the Indian government banned all types of labour for children under the age of 14, making hiring a child a punishable offence. The ban followed the implementation in 2010 of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, popularly known as the RTE, which states that all children between the ages of 6 and 14 have the right to free schooling. Yet two years on from the child-labour ban, despite much talk, there has been little visible result on the ground. There are two main reasons behind the failure.
Like so many laws in India, RTE exists largely on paper. This explains why just a couple of months before the full implementation of the law, Unicef noted that some 28 million children between the ages of five and 14 were working. The government is considering more aggressive laws to ban child labour but, while more regulations are welcome, they will do little to solve the country’s most difficult problems: implementation and enforcement. Thanks to corruption within the government and a lack of political will, it is unlikely that anything will be done.
More importantly, poverty – the main cause of child slavery – is still rampant. India has a poverty rate of about 25 per cent, with more than 50 per cent of the population being under the age of 25. A large number of the 28 million working children identified by Unicef were neither being forced into labour nor being kept as slaves. For them, work is not an option, but a necessity. Therefore, poverty alleviation is key to eradicating child slavery.
India must also ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention 182, committing itself to taking immediate action to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labour. There would be much more prestige for the country in tackling poverty, corruption and inequality than in sending a mission to Mars.