Right to Education and Child Labour: A Critical Analysis

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

batori.in“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”   -Kofi Annan

Education is a key for socio-economic nation progress. Education is the formal process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills, customs, and values from accumulated knowledge, skills, customs and values from one generation to another. It is essence of life, the existence of life without education is very difficult.

“Education for all” declares that everyone has a right to education. It aim is to give everyone a chance to learn and benefit from basic education- not as an accident of circumstances, or as a privilege, but as a right. Government means governing the minds so it would be better for democratic government to govern good mind and good mind can only be developed by means of education.

Although the right to education is universally recognized since the universal declaration of the human rights, 1948 and has since been enshrined in various international conventions, national constitution and development plans. The landmark passing of the right of children to free and compulsory education i.e. RTE Act, 2009 marks a historic moment for the children of India. But mere passing of the act will not ensure that the goals laid down will be achieved. The challenges before our educational are many and multifaceted.

There is long interrelation between education and child labour. Child labour is curse to society and it can be only eradicated by means of education. As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle for which economically, socially, and emotionally marginalized children can live themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in the communities. It is observed the nation which has low literacy rate has high child labour so as literacy rate elevate high the child labour will lowered.

Mahatma Gandhi writing in his selected works that, “the school must be an extension of home; there must be concordance between the impressions which a child gathers at home and at school, if the best result are to be obtained”.

Position of Education and Child Labour at Glance

During the British period, progress of education was rather tardy. Literacy rates in British India rose from 3.2 per cent in 1881 to 7.2 per cent in 1931 and 12.2 per cent in 1947. The Indian literacy rate grew to 74.04% in 2011; still this level is well below the world average literacy rate of 84%. In 1990, study projected that it would take until 2060 for India to achieve universal literacy at the current progressive rate.

About 35% of world’s illiterate population is an Indian. The NSSO (National Sample Survey Organization) and NFHS (National Health Survey) Collected data that in India the percentage of children completing primary school which are reported to be only 36.8 % & 37.7%. In 2005, Prime Minister said only 47 out 100 children enrolled in class I reach class VIII, putting dropout rate 52.78%.

The 2001 national census of India estimated the total number of child labour, aged 5–14, to be at 12.6 million. The number was 11. 3 million during 1991 (Population Census) thus showing an increase in the number of child labourers. According to an ILO report, the extent of bonded child labour is difficult to determine, but estimates from various social activist groups range up to 350,000 in 2001.

It is also estimated that 28 million children in the age group of 5 to 14 are engaged in work for at least 1 hour of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week and age group of 12 to 14 are engaged at least 14 hours of economic work or 28 hours of domestic work per week. According to Census of India the 12.26 million working children in age group of 5-14 years with the ratio of 5.1 to 4.9 (Boys & girls).

Reason for low literacy rate in India

Illiteracy is not caused by a lack of intelligence. It is often a result of outside factors or disabilities that can be addressed. A major cause of illiteracy is the economic condition of the people, those living in poverty cannot afford to go to school and most of the children are put to work at a young age. Some undeveloped countries simply do not have the funds to put towards schooling.

A little known cause of illiteracy is cultural influences; kids study a lot from their surroundings at a juvenile time and are recognized to copy the actions of the populace around them. This is why parents are encouraged to study to their kids; it sets an instance, presentation learning as a form of pleasure. This can be applied to any learning movement. Parents with minute wish to read or those that lack appropriate reading/learning skills themselves are more likely to subconsciously pass this trait onto their wards.

The lack of ample educate infrastructure like inappropriate amenities and services and inefficient teaching staff are chief factors distressing literacy in India. There is a lack of six lakh classrooms to accommodate all the students.

In addition, there is no appropriate sanitation in the majority of schools in India. The survey of 188 government-run primary schools in central and northern India revealed that 59% of the schools had no drinking water facility and 89% no toilets. A Public Report On Basic Education (PROBE) team did surveys and reported that India had very poor infrastructure in 1999 and a 25% rate of teachers being absent from school on any particular day in 2005.

In 600,000 villages and multiplying urban slum habitats, ‘free and compulsory education’ is the basic literacy instruction dispensed by barely qualified ‘para teachers’. The average Pupil Teacher Ratio for All India is 1:42, implying teacher shortage. Such inadequacies resulted in a non-standardized school system where literacy rates may differ.

Furthermore, the expenditure allocated to education was never above 4.3% of the GDP from 1951-2002 despite the target of 6% by the Kothari Commission. This further complicates the literacy problem in India. Severe caste disparities also exist. Discrimination of lower castes has resulted in high dropout rates and low enrolment rates. The National Sample Survey Organization and the National Family Health Survey collected data in India on the percentage of children completing primary school which are reported to be only 36.8% and 37.7% respectively.

On 21 February, 2005, the Prime Minister of India said that he was pained to note that “only 47 out of 100 children enrolled in class I reach class VIII, putting the dropout rate at 52.79 per cent.” It is estimated that at least 35 million, and possibly as many as 60 million, children aged 6–14 years are not in school.

The large proportion of illiterate females is another reason for low literacy in India. Inequality based on gender differences resulted in female literacy rates being lower at 65.46% than that of their male counterparts at 82.14%.

In 1944, the Government of British India presented a plan, called the Sergeant Scheme for the educational reconstruction of India, with a goal of producing 100% literacy in the country within 40 years, i.e. by 1984. Although the 40 year time-frame was derided at the time by leaders of the Indian independence movement as being too long a period to achieve universal literacy, India had only just crossed the 74% level by the 2011 census.

In 1991, the state’s literacy rate was only 38.55% (54.99% male and 20.44% female). In 2001, the literacy rate increased to 60.41% (75.70% male and 43.85% female). At the Census 2011, Rajasthan had a literacy rate of 67.06% (80.51% male and 52.66% female). Although Rajasthan’s literacy rate is below the national average of 74.04% and although its female literacy rate is the lowest in the country, the state has been praised for its efforts and achievements in raising both male and female literacy rates.

Suggestions for Literacy and School Education

To achieve the targets of elementary and secondary education, we need to take the following steps.

  1. Optimal up gradation of primary schools to elementary level and secondary schools to senior secondary level:The focus should be now on achieving universalized accessibility at the elementary level and easy accessibility at the secondary level, by optimally merging the number of schools under two categories instead of four, i.e., one at the elementary level and the other at the secondary level.
  2. Rationalization and redistribution of staff: It is very important to upgrade the primary schoolsto middle level, so that the shortage of teachers at the former is compensated bythe excess at the latter, the teacher-pupil ratio being lower at the middle levelthan at the primary level.
  3. Focus on pre-service/in-service teachers’ training: The government must improve the capability and skills of the educating staff by promoting pre-service and in-service training for them.
  4. Focus on teacher empowerment: The vital role of educating staff in the whole teaching set-up must be realized. Processes should be set up to initiate a participative method for the teachers in the growth of program, text-book, teaching-learning material and methodologies.
  5. Setting up an academic council: There is requirement for an independent multi-member educational authority to carry out example studies, to collect data about the performance of institutions and learning capabilities of students.
  6. Revamping the program: There should be a special thrust to make educationat elementary level useful and relevant for children.
  7. Provision of infrastructure/optimal use of the existing infrastructure:Efforts should be made to bridge the infrastructural gaps. Schools should raise resources through voluntary organizations and panchayats, with the state government providing matching grants.
  8. Altering the approach of parents:As far as the social and cultural handicaps of enrollment and retention of girls in schools is concerned, the NGOs and PRIs need to be associated effectively to initiate an attitudinal change in the parents of the girl child.
  9. Increase incentives to all children in government schools:The different incentives being provided by the government should be for all children, irrespective of caste, creed, colure and sex criteria to attain the objective of universalization of education.
  10. Village as unit of planning:To initiate a community-based approach, village should be the lowest unit for planning education. Village plans should converge to form the District Educational Plans.

Right to Education Act

The RTE act is not innovative law. Universal adult franchise in the act was opposed since most of the population was illiterate. Article 45 in the Constitution of India was set up as an act: “The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years”

The Act makes education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14 and specifies minimum norms in elementary schools. It requires all private schools to reserve 25% of seats to children from poor families (to be reimbursed by the state as part of the public-private partnership plan).

It also prohibits all unrecognized schools from practice, and makes provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission. The Act also provides that no child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education. There is also a provision for special training of school drop-outs to bring them up to par with students of the same age

The Act provides for a special organization, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, an autonomous body set up in 2007to monitor the implementation of the acttogether with Commissions to be set up by the states.

Challenges in Implementing RTE Act

The historic Right to Education (RTE) act that promises to provide every child compulsory elementary education is set to face many hurdles. Following are the key challenges to implementing this historic fundamental right:

  1. In the first year of implementation, the act is likely to face a shortage of Rs. 7,000 crore (Rs. 70 billion);
  2. India needs at least 500,000 more teachers and without them the act will not be able to see success;
  3. The number of untrained teachers in the country ranges from 10-40 percent of the total strength;
  4. There are still many states that are not very cooperative in implementing the act in true spirit mainly because of paucity of funds;
  5. Hundreds of thousands of schools still don’t have adequate infrastructure. Can they catch up with time or face a ban? Both ways, its a loss for the country;
  6. There is no clear road map on how the government wants to help 8.1 million out of school children back to classroom;
  7. Will there be a proper monitoring system to see its execution. Else it will fall on the wayside. Both states and the central government will blame each other for its failure.

Reason for High Child Labour in India

            There are laws to vanish this cruel Child Labour but it continues to exist in our society. Before 100 years the main Causes of Child Labour were the poverty and no education. Another reason was suppression of the rights of workers. And now the reasons behind this problem continued to remain the same as usual. The following are the main reasons of high child labour:

  • There is no compulsory education at primary in school, parents ignore the dangerous effect of Child Labour and also children get many problems to get the admission in school.
  • If there is poverty it is considered that no one would ever be able to finish Child Labour, but when people begin to do something about it another huge problem appear before them – over population. Child Labour in India faces this issue while showing their interest on eradicating Child Labour.
  • A child needs to be taken care well until their proper mental and physical growth. But their parents who are already uneducated are not able to understand this fact.
  • Unemployment is another big reason when it comes to the problem of Child Labour. And also another reason that comes across is urbanization. It is hard to find a job when factory owners want to employ little children instead of adults as it cost much lesser.
  • Poverty the Main Reason for Child Labor
  • Fatalist attitude of the poor towards life. Most of the people belonging to the lowest strata of society in India have a fatalist and submissive attitude towards life. They do not believe that that their lot can be better.
  • High Population leading to break neck Competition for jobs.
  •  Illiteracy and lack of education.

Laws Relating to Child Labour

As per Article 24 of the Constitution, no child below the age of 14 years is to be employed in any factory, mine or any hazardous employment.  Further, Article 39 requires the States to direct its policy towards ensuring that the tender age of children is not abused and that they are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength.

Consistent with the Constitutional provisions, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was enacted in 1986, which seeks to prohibit employment of children below 14 years in hazardous occupations and processes and regulates the working conditions in other employments. In the last 5 years, the number of hazardous processes listed in the schedule of the Act has increased from 18 to 57 and occupations from 7 to 13.

Amendment to the child labour (prohibition and regulation) Act, 1986

Enforcement of the law is a key strategy. But in the case of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, there are a number of loopholes, which makes the law ineffective.

A new national child labour eradication policy

Several changes have occurred since the drafting of the National Child Eradication Labour Policy in 1987. A re-examination of all the laws and policies pertaining to working children is critical.

Revised national child labour programme (NCLP)

Transitional Education Centers: The current National Child Labour Programme (NCLP) needs to be revamped. NCLP schools must be converted into Transitional Education Centres (TECs) which are both non-residential and residential. It is very important that the guidelines for TECs are very flexible, adapting to the local situation.

Child Labour in India: Legal Framework

                    i.            Children [Pledging of Labour] Act (1933)

                  ii.            Employment of Children Act (1938)

                iii.            The Bombay Shop and Establishments Act (1948)

                iv.            Child Labour -Prohibition and Regulation Act

                  v.            The Indian Factories Act (1948)

                vi.            Plantations Labour Act (1951)

              vii.            The Mines Act (1952)

            viii.            Merchant Shipping Act (1958)

                ix.            The Apprentice Act (1961)

                  x.            The Motor Transport Workers Act (1961)

                xi.            The Atomic Energy Act (1962)

              xii.            Bidi and Cigar Workers (Condition of Employment) Act (1966)

            xiii.            State Shops and Establishments Act

Recently, with the insertion of Article 21A, the State has been entrusted with the task of providing free and compulsory education to all the children in the age group of 6-14 years.

The Child Labour Act should be non-negotiable and the word “Regulation” should be repealed from its title so that child labour elimination becomes non-negotiable. In the same strength of mind the punitive provisions must be enhanced, service of child labour should be deemed as a cognizable offence and the enforcement machinery strengthened several times over so that the message is clear that child labour will not be tolerated under any circumstance.

Every child rescued from employment would have to be brought to a local TEC and the TEC would have to admit all children who are rescued from work. These TECs should act as bridges and the children are to be handed over to the SSA programme. This will have to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Each TEC should have amenities and services to accommodate at least 50 children at any specified point of occasion. It is planned to have 30 TECs (non-residential) in each of the 600 districts in the country. These TECs’s would be equipped for at least 50 children at any given point of time. However, it is expected that there would be even more number of children due to the intensive campaign, awareness building as well as enforcement of law.

The residential TEC’s would be the first post where such rescued children would be sent. It is proposed to have 2 residential TECs in each district with 50 children in each. Even here, depending upon the demand there must be flexibility to increase the residential TECs and if necessary, modify the non-residential TECs to residential ones, within the budgets that are provided for. It is envisaged that 3 lakh children would benefit from this over five years.

Post independence period also the enactment of a number of legislation, regulating the various aspects of child labour. The Labour Department under the central and state governments deals with the problem of child labour. As being a multifarious problem child labour needs the co-ordinate efforts of other governmental departments like social welfare and education for effectively curbing the issue.

Labour happiness and occupational and technological education of labour are cited in the concurrent list of the Constitution. Therefore, both the centre and states may enact legislation on child welfare.  Generally, the centre has promulgated the enactment dealing with child labour. The state laws are in the area of non-industrial occupations such as shops and commercial establishments.


Child labour is a significant problem in India.  Its prevalence is shown by child work participation rates which are higher in India than in other developing countries.The major cause of child labour is poverty.  Even though children are paid less than adults are, whatever income they earn is of benefit to poor families.

In addition to poverty, the lack of adequate and accessible sources of credit forces poor parents to use their children as bonded child labourers.  Some parents also feel that a formal education is not useful, and that children learn work skills through working.  Another cause is poor access to education.  In some areas, education is not affordable, or is found to be inadequate.  With no other alternatives, children inevitably spend their time working.

The Constitution of India clearly states that child labour is wrong and that measures should be taken to end it.  The government of India has set a minimum age of employment.  This Act does not make all child types of labour illegal.  Despite policies enforcement is a problem.  If child labour is to be stopped in India, the government and those responsible for enforcement need to start doing their jobs.  Policies without enforcement are useless.

Education in India also needs to be improved.  High illiteracy and dropout rates reflect the low quality of the educational system.  Poverty plays a role in the ineffectiveness of the educational system.  Dropout rates are high because children are forced to work in order to support their families.  The attitudes of the parents also contribute to the lack of enrollment.  Compulsory education may help in regard to these attitudes.  The examples of Sri Lanka and Kerala show that compulsory education has worked in those areas.  Hopefully the future will show that progress will be made towards universal education, and stopping child labour.

Child labour cannot be eliminated by focusing on one cause, for example education, or by strict enforcement of child labour laws.  The government of India must ensure that the needs of the poor are filled before attacking child labour.  If poverty is addressed, the need for child labour will automatically be reduced.

Children grow up illiterate because they are working and not attending school.  A cycle of poverty is formed and the need for child labour is constant from one generation to the next.  India needs to deal with the underlying causes of child labour and the enforcement of laws.  Only then will India succeed in the fight against child labour.

-Mirza Junaid Beg

(The author is a Ph.D candidate at Department of Law, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.)

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.