Child labor refers to the employment of children. This practice is illegal in many countries. In rich countries it is considered as a human rights violation.
Child labor goes back a long way in time. During the Victorian era, many young children were made to work in factories and mines and as chimney sweeps. Child labor played an important role in the Industrial Revolution. Charles Dickens worked at the age of 12 in the Blacking Factory, while his family was in debtor’s prison. In those days, children as young as four were employed in production factories with dangerous working conditions.
With universal schooling and the introduction of concepts like human rights and child rights, slowly child labor fell into disrepute. The first general laws against child labor, the Factory Acts, were passed in Britain in the first half of the 19th century. Children younger than nine were not allowed to work.
Poverty is the main reason why child labor exists. Children bring in additional income which is much needed and so parents send them to work. Child labor is common in poorer parts of the world. Children may work in factories, sweatshops, mines, fields, hotels, match factories, or in households. Some children work as guides for tourists and may end up getting sexually abused by them as happens in places like Goa and Kerala.
As many children work in the informal sector they manage to escape the scrutiny of the labor inspectors and the media. According to UNICEF, there are an estimated 158 million children aged 5 to 14 engaged in child labor worldwide. In 1999, the Global March against Child Labor, the movement, began. Thousands of people marched together to spread the message against child labor.
The march, which started on January 17, 1998, built immense awareness and culminated at the ILO Conference in Geneva. It resulted in the draft of the ILO Convention against the worst forms of child labor. The following year, the Convention was unanimously adopted at the ILO Conference in Geneva.
Child labor is still widely prevalent in India. It is estimated that there are between 70 and 80 million child laborers in India. Though there are laws banning child labor they are blatantly ignored even by educated and well-informed people. Young children not yet in their teens often work for 20 hours a day in sweatshops and are paid only a pittance.
In many developed countries, there is a move to boycott goods and products made by employing child labor. Child labor is a cruel practice. Childhood is a time to play and be carefree, enjoying the company of other children. A child is not equipped to work like an adult so this evil practice should be banned and the government should see that no child is deprived of an education because of poverty.