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CHILD LABOR

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 debtors 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.