India is home to 39% children of the total population (Census 2011) which is the largest child population in the world. The Indian Constitution ensures the right of all children 6-14 years to free and compulsory education; prohibits forced labour; prohibits the employment of children below 14 years in hazardous occupations; and promotes policies protecting children from exploitation. The UN Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC) defines Child Rights as the minimum entitlements and freedom that should be afforded to everyone under 18 regardless of origin, status, religion, gender, wealth, language, culture, disability or any other characteristics. India being a signatory to this Convention, has over the years advanced several legal measures to provision care and protection to children.
The policy frameworks to ensure these safeguards to children include, the National Policy on Child Labour (1987), National Policy for Children (2013), National Plan of Action for Child 2016, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2016, the Right to Education Act 2009, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 (the JJ Act) and Amendment of the JJ Act in 20105, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006. Schemes such as Integrated Child Protection Services, Integrated Child Development Schemes etc. have been initiated to provide children safe environment to grow and develop from formative years. In September 2016, Government launched the Platform for Effective Enforcement for No Child Labour (PENCIL) to identify, rehabilitate and mainstream child labour.
Despite the laws concerning children’s care and protection in different situations, country is grappling with situations that push vulnerable children into manual labour, trafficking and other unsafe and hazardous situations. Eight million children were working in rural areas, and 2 million in urban areas, of which 4.5 girl children and 5.6 male children in the age group of 5 to 14 years are engaged in child labour (Census 2011). Child labour has become invisible by changing location of work place from factories to homes of business owners and workers. Bonded child labour is a hidden phenomenon as a majority of them are found in the informal sector. It is a form of slavery, whereby the children who are bonded with their family or inherit a debt from their parents are often found in agricultural sector or assisting their families in brick kilns, and stone quarries.
An estimated 8.1 million children are out of school, majority of those belonging to the disadvantaged groups. Despite achieving close to universal enrolment at primary level, 27% children drop out between Class 1 and 5, 41% before reaching Class 8, and 49% before reaching Class 10. The figures are higher for children from Scheduled Castes (27%, 43%, and 56% respectively) and Scheduled Tribes (36%, 55%, and 71%). Wide gender disparities exist in education. “Out of school children comprise the workers and non-workers, and together signify a measure of deprivation among children and can be considered as a potential labour pool always being at the risk of entering the labour force” (NCEUS, 2007).
Many child labourers remain unaccounted for in official statistics. Child labour, as rightly identified by the ChildLine India, stand as stark manifestation of violations of a range of rights of children and is recognised as a serious and enormously complex social problem in India. Poverty, illiteracy and poor socio-economic conditions, ineffective social security schemes and their coverage, conflicts, natural disasters, and family indebtedness expose children to various risks.
West Bengal is 4th most populous state (91.28 million) it has 23 districts and 9 districts share international border with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan risking high incidence of in/out migration both inter-state and cross boarded situated distinct geographical region form hills to riverine delta. The state occupies the seventh spot in the top 10 States with high rates of child labour, but an alarming 337 per cent increase in the number of marginal girl children (aged 5-9 years) in urban areas out of 5,50,092 children is worrisome.
Children constitute 29.9 million, which is 33% of total state population, and whist literacy rate improved from 69% (2001) to 76.3% (2011) the gender gap of 11.2% is an unsettling factor. In West Bengal 2.45% children are estimated to be out-of-school, and child labour was pegged at 2,34,275 (Census 2011). The statistics for implementation of the NCLP too have not been encouraging, as between 2010 and 2013, the state recorded one of the least number of rehabilitated child labourers.
The fundamental longstanding issue with defining child labour in India has been the clash between the age of childhood provided by the UNCRC as up to 18 years, and the minimum age for employment as 14 years set by Indian Constitution and Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act. Besides, the approach to holistic rehabilitation of child labourers in the country, apart from the centrally sponsored National Child Labour Programme (NCLP), remains shoddy, with lack of child focused visioning and required monitoring mechanisms. The income and employment generation activities for families has been one of the activities under NCLP, however, it is not yet known how many families have received this support and how many children were prevented from entering workforce prematurely.
Established in 1962, Caritas India with national presence, works in the areas of Emergency Response and Disaster Risk Reduction; Climate adaptive sustainable agriculture and livelihoods, anti-human trafficking, women’s empowerment and participation in local governance, and child development through various community centred programmes and approaches. Caritas India adheres to the UNCRC age of childhood, and reaches out to children under 18 years with development and humanitarian support.
With pan-India presence, and working through partners, Caritas India strives to create protective and empowering environment for children from marginalised communities, in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Odisha and West Bengal, Jammu & Kashmir, Assam and Manipur, focusing local issues of disaster risk reduction, education, malnutrition, child marriage, peace building, trafficking and child labour.
Caritas India works to create child friendly and safe environment to prevent child labour and provide them with rehabilitation and development support until 18 years. Towards this, Caritas India collaborates with local administration, CSOs, and other stakeholders. In West Bengal, 13 villages/wards have been declared ‘Child Labour Free Zones’ in Kalimpong municipality of Darjeeling, and ‘Child Friendly Police Station’ is established, apart from instituting Children’s Clubs and Vigilance Committees that report cases on child labour, engage in awareness creation and related actions.
At the Policy level, Caritas India has been part of several civil society dialogues as participant and knowledge partner leading on certain themes, providing inputs and recommendations to the National Plan of Action for Children, 2016; National Education Policy 2016, and Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection & Rehabilitation) Bill 2016.
 ‘53 per cent increase in child labour’, The Hindu, Kolkata, June 26, 2015 http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/53-per-cent-increase-in-child-labour/article7355783.ece
 Table A 3: Percentage of out of School children by Gender and Location – 2014, Pg 16 (Draft) National Sample Survey of Estimation of Out-of-School Children in the Age 6-13 in India, SRI-IMRB http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/upload_document/National-Survey-Estimation-School-Children-Draft-Report.pdf
 West Bengal lags in child labour welfare, Times of India, Jun 16, 2013, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/West-Bengal-lags-in-child-labour-welfare/articleshow/20610429.cms
 Caritas India: Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change in the National Plan of Action for Children 2016, Available on- http://caritasindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/npac.pdf
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