Child labor is the practice of having children engages in economic activity, on part or full-time basis. The practice deprives children of their childhood, and is harmful to their physical and mental development. Poverty, lack of good schools and growth of informal economy are considered as the important causes of child labor in India.

The term child labor, suggests is best defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children, or work whose schedule interferes with their ability to attend regular school, or work that affects in any manner their ability to focus during school or experience healthy childhood.

Child labor is the practice of engaging children in economic activity, on part-time Or full-time basis. Contrary to the notion that it is better when all members of a family, irrespective of age, work and earn money, child labor actually makes poverty worse. The more children are forced to work, the fewer opportunities are there for adults to earn a living. By driving down adult wages and depriving children of education, child labor results in poverty passing down from generation to generation. According to the International labor Organization (ILO) “Born to parents who themselves were uneducated child workers, many child worker are forced to continue a tradition that leaves them chained to a life of poverty” (ILO, United States Policies to Address Child labor globally, 2010). That is why child labor is a very complicated development issue, affecting human society all over the world. Although India has the largest number of child laborers under the age 14 in the World, child labor problem is not unique to India; worldwide, in many countries children are forced to work with disastrous consequences. Children, under age 14 are often forced to work for as many as 18 hours a day. They are subject to malnutrition, impaired vision, deformities from sitting long hours in cramped over crowded work places, , they become easy preys to deadly diseases like serious respiratory diseases, T.B., and Cancer. They are often forced to lead solitary lives away from their families, deprived of meaningful education and training opportunities that could prepare them for a better future. Child labor not only lead to a perpetual cycles of poverty for a family, it depresses the economy also. The immense benefits of abolition of child labor cannot be measured in economic terms alone, its enormous long term beneficial impact on the Society as a whole far outweighs the nominal economic hardship that some families would suffer only for a short span of time.

Children are the greatest gift to humanity and Childhood is an important and Impressionable stage of human development as it holds the potential to the future Development of any society. Children who are brought up in an environment, which is conducive to their intellectual, physical and social health, grow up to be responsible and productive members of society. Every nation links its future with the present status of its children. By performing work when they are too young for the task, children unduly reduce their present welfare or their future income earning capabilities, either by shrinking their future external choice sets or by reducing their own future individual productive capabilities. Under extreme economic distress, children are forced to forego educational opportunities and take up jobs which are mostly exploitative as they are usually underpaid and engaged in hazardous conditions. Parents decide to send their child for engaging in a job as a desperate measure due to poor economic conditions. It is, therefore, no wonder that the poor households predominantly send their children to work in early ages of their life. One of the disconcerting aspects of child labor is that children are sent to work at the expense of education

There is a strong effect of child labor on school attendance rates and the length of a child’s work day is negatively associated with his or her capacity to attend school. Child labor restricts the right of children to access and benefit from education and denies the fundamental opportunity to attend school. Child labor, thus, prejudices children’s education and adversely affects their health and safety.

UNICEF estimates that India with its larger population has the highest number of laborers in the world less than 14 years of age, while sub-Saharan African countries have the highest percentage of children who are deployed as child labor. International Labor Organization estimates that agriculture at 60 percent is the largest employer of child labor in India, while United Nation’s Food estimates 70% of child labor is deployed in agriculture and related activities. Outside of agriculture, child labor is observed in almost all informal sectors of the Indian economy.

UNICEF defines child labor differently. A child, suggests UNICEF, is involved in child labor activities if between 5 to 11 years of age, he or she did at least one hour of economic activity or at least 28 hours of domestic work in a week, and in case of children between 12 to 14 years of age, he or she did at least 14 hours of economic activity or at least 42 hours of economic activity and domestic work per week. UNICEF in another report suggests, “Children’s work needs to be seen as happening along a continuum, with destructive or exploitative work at one end and beneficial work – promoting or enhancing children’s development without interfering with their schooling, recreation and rest – at the other. And between these two poles are vast areas of work that need not negatively affect a child’s development.”

India’s Census 2001 office defines child labor as participation of a child less than 17 years of age in any economically productive activity with or without compensation, wages or profit. Such participation could be physical or mental or both. This work includes part-time help or unpaid work on the farm, family enterprise or in any other economic activity such as cultivation and milk production for sale or domestic consumption. Indian government classifies child laborers into two groups: Main workers are those who work 6 months or more per year. And marginal child workers are those who work at any time during the year but less than 6 months in a year.

Some child rights activists argue that child labor must include every child who is not in school because he or she is a hidden child worker. UNICEF, however, points out that India faces major shortages of schools, classrooms and teachers particularly in rural areas where 90 percent of child labor problem is observed. About 1 in 5 primary schools have just one teacher to teach students across all grades.

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