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Gujarat has nearly 4.2 lakh child workers, one of the highest in India, up from 3.9 lakh in 2004-05

By Rajiv Shah
Latest information, calculated on the basis of the worker-population ratio (WPR) provided by the top statistical collection body of the Government of India, National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), has revealed that Gujarat has nearly 4.2 lakh child workers – 3.18 lakh in the rural areas and a little above 1 lakh in the urban areas. The calculation is based on the NSSO’s revelation in its latest report, “Employment and Unemployment Situation in India, 2011-12”, released in January 2014. It points towards the fact that Gujarat has 2.2 per cent child workers in the urban areas and 4.3 per cent child workers in the rural areas in the age-group 5-14, which happens to be one of the highest in India.
What should be of particular concern for the state’s powerful policy makers is that the percentage of child workers in Gujarat is higher than 20 major most Indian states, except Jharkhand (6.7 per cent), in the rural areas. As for urban areas, only three states have higher percent of child workers than Gujarat – West Bengal (12.6 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (4.4 per cent) and Odisha (4.1 per cent). A high proportion of child labourers should mean failure of the state government’s efforts to ensure universal primary education, on one hand, and inability to implement government policies to overcome poverty and underemployment, on the other.
The states which have higher number of child workers than Gujarat (both in urban and rural areas) are – Uttar Pradesh (28.83 lakh), Bihar (11.22 lakh), West Bengal (10.47 lakh), Jharkhand (4.75 lakh) and Andhra Pradesh (4.5 lakh). It is not without significant that the states which are good performers in overall social indictors have very few child workers. Thus, if calculations based on NSSO figures are to be taken into account, Himachal Pradesh has the lowest number of child workers, just about 4,500, followed by Kerala, about 16,000. There is no explanation either in the NSSO report, or elsewhere, as to why Gujarat, being sold as the model state all over India, has so many child workers.
Official Gujarat government sources give a very sketchy picture of child workers in Gujarat. The Labour Commissioner’s office has quoted the NSSO report of 2004-05 to say that “the total child labour in Gujarat State 3,99,820, out of which 86,130 lived in urban area and 3,13,700 lived in rural area.” It claimed, “From the data it is evident that Gujarat is on 10th rank on the basis of total number of child labour” (click HERE to see details). Clearly, ever since the 2004-05 survey, Gujarat has drastically slipped in child labour. Not only the numbers have gone up compared to most Indian states, the ranking has slipped to the sixth highest number of child workers compared to 20 major states.
The state government admits that “child labour occurs when children under the age of 14 are used to do labour. Children are usually forced to do adult work to help provide for their families. The working conditions are poor and children usually suffer physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. They work long hours every day and are unable to attend school, which is their fundamental right”. It adds, Poverty forces parents to send their children to even hazardous jobs. Although they know it is wrong, they have no other alternatives as they need money. Poor parents are compelled by their circumstances to put their child to work.”
It also agrees, “In spite of the Constitutional and legal provisions, child labour is bitter truth in Gujarat”, but claims, “On the other hand, it is truth that trend of child labour in Gujarat is decline since 1981”, something which is not proving to be correct. It agrees, “The motto of the state government is not fulfilled in elimination of child labour. It is recognized that elimination of child labour needs multi-pronged strategy. Child labour cannot be viewed in isolation because it is a cause and consequence of the country’s socio-economic and political reality. Examples have proved that child labour can be over-come with a clear political vision and plans of action."
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