Child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organisations. Legislation across the world prohibit child labour. These laws do not consider all work by children as child labour; exceptions include work by child artists, family duties, supervised training, certain categories of work such as those by Amish children, some forms of child work common among indigenous American children, and others.
Child labour has existed to varying extents, through most of history. Before 1940, numerous children aged 5–14 worked in Europe, the United States and various colonies of European powers. These children mainly worked in agriculture, home-based assembly operations, factories, mining and in services such as newsies. Some worked night shifts lasting 12 hours. With the rise of household income, availability of schools and passage of child labour laws, the incidence rates of child labour fell.
In developing countries, with high poverty and poor schooling opportunities, child labour is still prevalent. In 2010, sub-saharan Africa had the highest incidence rates of child labour, with several African nations witnessing over 50 percent of children aged 5–14 working. Worldwide agriculture is the largest employer of child labour. Vast majority of child labour is found in rural settings and informal urban economy; children are predominantly employed by their parents, rather than factories. Poverty and lack of schools are considered as the primary cause of child labour.
Globally the incidence of child labour decreased from 25% to 10% between 1960 and 2003, according to the World Bank. Nevertheless, the total number of child labourers remains high, with UNICEF and ILO acknowledging an estimated 168 million children aged 5–17 worldwide, were involved in child labour in 2013.
In 2015, the country of India is home to the largest number of children who are working illegally in various industrial industries. Agriculture in India is the largest sector where many children work at early ages to help support their family. Many of these children are forced to work at young ages due to many family factors such as unemployment, a large number of family members, poverty, and lack of parental education. This is often the major cause of the high rate of child labour in India.
On 23 June 1757, the English East India Company defeated Siraj-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Bengal, in the Battle of Plassey. The British thus became masters of east India (Bengal, Bihar, Orissa) – a prosperous region with a flourishing agriculture, industry and trade. This led to a large amount of children being forced into labour due to the increasing need of cheap labour to produce large numbers of goods. Many multinationals often employed children because that they can be recruited for less pay, and have more endurance to utilise in factory environments. Another reason many Indian children were hired was because they lack knowledge of their basic rights, they did not cause trouble or complain, and they were often more trustworthy. The innocence that comes with childhood was utilised to make a profit by many and was encouraged by the need for family income.
A variety of Indian social scientists as well as the Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) have done extensive research on the numeric figures of child labour found in India and determined that India contributes to one-third of Asia’s child labour and one-fourth of the world’s child labour. Due to a large number of children being illegally employed, the Indian government began to take extensive actions to reduce the number of children working, and to focus on the importance of facilitating the proper growth and development of children. International influences help to encourage legal actions to be taken in India, such as the Geneva Declaration of the Right of Children Act was passed in 1924. This act was followed by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to which incorporated the basic human rights and needs of children for proper progression and growth in their younger years. These international acts encouraged major changes to the workforce in India which occurred in 1986 when the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was put into place. This act prohibited hiring children younger than the age of 14, and from working in hazardous conditions.
Due to the increase of regulations and legal restrictions on child labour, there has been a 64 percent decline in child labour from 1993-2005. Although this is a great decrease in the country of India, there is still high numbers of children working in the rural areas of India. With 85 percent of the child labour occurring in rural areas, and 15 percent occurring in urban areas, there are still substantial areas of concern in the country of India. India has legislation since 1986 which allows work by children in non-hazardous industry. In 2013, the Punjab and Haryana High Court gave a landmark order that directed that there shall be a total ban on the employment of children up to the age of 14 years, be it hazardous or non-hazardous industries. However, the Court ruled that a child can work with his or her family in family based trades/occupations, for the purpose of learning a new trade/craftsmanship or vocation.
Children working at a young age has been a consistent theme throughout Africa. Many children began first working in the home to help their parents run the family farm. Children in Africa today are often forced into exploitative labour due to family debt and other financial factors, leading to ongoing poverty. Other types of domestic child labour include working in commercial plantations, begging, and other sales such as boot shining. In total, there is an estimated five million children who are currently working in the field of agriculture which steadily increases during the time of harvest. Along with 30 percent of children who are picking coffee, there are an estimated 25,000 school age children who work year round.
What industries children work in depends on if they grew up in a rural area or an urban area. Children who were born in urban areas often found themselves working for street vendors, washing cars, helping in construction sites, weaving clothing, and sometimes even working as exotic dancers. While children who grew up in rural areas would work on farms doing physical labour, working with animals, and selling crops. Of all the child workers, the most serious cases involved street children and trafficked children due to the physical and emotional abuse they endured by their employers. To address the issue of child labour, the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child Act was implemented in 1959. Yet due to poverty, lack of education and ignorance, the legal actions were not/are not wholly enforced or accepted in Africa.
Other legal factors that have been implemented to end and reduce child labour includes the global response that came into force in 1979 by the declaration of the International Year of the Child. Along with the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, these two declarations worked on many levels to eliminate child labour. Although many actions have been taken to end this epidemic, child labour in Africa is still an issue today due to the unclear definition of adolescence and how much time is needed for children to engage in activities that are crucial for their development. Another issue that often comes into play is the link between what constitutes as child labour within the household due to the cultural acceptance of children helping run the family business. In the end, there is a consistent challenge for the national government to strengthen its grip politically on child labour, and to increase education and awareness on the issue of children working below the legal age limit. With children playing an important role in the African economy, child labour still plays an important role for many in the 20th century.