For the last one decade, June 12 has been celebrated as World Day against Child Labour. The day’s theme this year is “Human Rights and Social Justice: Ending Child Labour”. No matter which day we celebrate, the objective is not only to highlight several issues, but it is equally necessary to properly review and assess the progress and challenges we have overcome.
Child labour signifies any form of work, which denies the right to education of a child and hampers the overall development and protection of children. Child labour exploitation is regarded as a consequence of the feudal and landlord system that still exists in most of the third world countries. However, both causes and effects of child labour exploitation have been gradually changing these days.
Moreover, child labour has repercussions on socio-economic and political structure of the world. In rural areas, children are still playing a significant role in keeping their families at subsistence level. There children fetch water, collect firewood, graze cattle, upkeep younger children and support parents in the farmland on a daily basis. They extend further support by being breadwinners working as domestic workers in houses of the better-off. Nowadays, the trend of migration of children to the urban areas is increasing tremendously and this has ultimately contributed to increase the magnitude of child labour in different areas, including streets, brick kilns, public transport, restaurants, entertainment industries and domestic services.
The National Labour Force Survey (2008) shows a sharp decline in the proportion of children aged 5-14 years engaged in economic activities from 2 million in 1998 to nearly 1.5 million in 2008, a trend that applies for both the urban and rural areas. Still, this number constitutes nearly 34 percent of all children aged 5-14.
On the one hand, engagement of the 5-14 year age group in some sectors such as carpet making, stone quarries, bonded labour, transportation service, armed forces or groups is declining. However, there is an increase of child labour in the age group 15-17, in which about two-fifth of the children (248,000) are into hazardous works, including the sex and entertainment industry.
So many national and international laws and regulations have been endorsed to lessen the growing burden of children at risk in the country. The indigenous laws— Children Act (1992), Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act (2001), Bonded Labour (Prohibition) Act (2002) and Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act (2007)— provide sufficient legal grounds to prevent and control child labour. However, effective implementation of these laws into action are in question.
In the last one decade, Nepal progressed significantly by introducing ILO’s Decent Work Country Programme, 10th National Development Plan (2002-2007), Poverty Reduction Strategy (2003) and National Plan of Action on Children (2005-2016), among others. Budget allocation at the DDC, municipality and VDC level regarding child protection and development are some significant initiatives which have contributed to the creating an enabling environment for achieving child labour elimination goals.
As the follow-up of the international ratification of ILO Convention 182 on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, Nepal has tried its best by introducing national law and master plans for the elimination of child labour.
Despite the commitments made by the state, the laws, policies and plans of action for the prevention and control of child labour are not effectively implemented in practice. Experiences have shown that there are many gaps and challenges regarding policy coherence, inter-agency co-operation, public awareness, justice delivery and resource mobilisation and management.
Likewise, there is also lack of effective monitoring mechanism to review and access progress and challenges while implementing the national plans of action in reality. Implementing the Rights of the Child is the major obligation of the government. But it cannot be realised in reality if the government fails to motivate, empower and support the rights of children. Each and every section of our society is bound to fulfill its obligations to every child.
Each people’s movement will be incomplete if one does not give enough emphasis on the child rights. We are all duty bound to protect rights of children. There is no magic word or scientific technology that can solve such problems overnight and any generous resources from the government and donor agencies cannot help overcome the problem easily. The government alone cannot bring about basic changes in the development process in any country. For this, support and participation of people from different sections of the society are needed.
The children are the key to the country’s future. The way we bring them up will direct the society tomorrow. Let us all work to mobilise the people in a movement to free our children from all types of servitude and ensure their rights to childhood.
(Mr Pradhan is NHRC commissioner)