At a time when one in every 11 children in the country is working, the government recently went ahead with a controversial amendment to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act , earning the ire of many activists. The amendment allows children under the age of 14 years to work in family-run enterprises as the government claimed that it would create a balance between the socio-economic condition of the country and the need for the children to be educated.

However, recent reports have highlighted that this might not have been such a favourable step after all. According to Child Rights and You, urban areas saw a whopping 53% rise in child labour even though it dropped by 29% in rural areas. A latest report, however, has brought to light the challenges that lie ahead in curbing the practice as a majority of those surveyed were reported to be working of their own accord, while being aware of the existence of the Right to Education Act.

The report by non-governmental organisation Save The Children studied garment factories of the national capital that account for more than half of all Indian garments exports and estimated more than 8,000 children to be associated in garment-related work across various levels.

The majority of these children, the report said, were working willingly, as more than 80% said they had decided to undertake work themselves and 78% further responded that they were aware of the Right to Education as well as the fact that it is illegal for children below 14 years of age to be employed. As many as 92% respondents were reported as saying that they were "happy" about the work they were doing

Even though only one respondent out of 170 was reported to have been forced to work, many of the respondents might have been pushed to work due to financial constraints in homes, as 61% of those working on home-based work and 46% of those working in addas (collective handlooms in the unorganised sector), said they had to work to supplement the household income.

Among other reasons were lack of interest in education and the obligation to repay family debts because of which they might have ended up in garment industry as it provided financial assistance, the report further said.

In the survey, more than 87% children were found to be working within their households but not all of them attended schools. Only 70% reported to be attending school regularly while this number was as low as just 10% for those working in addas.

The study reported that children aged four to five would also observe their family members involved in work and “pick up various skills”. Moreover, many children reported that they quite “enjoyed” the work and felt “proud” to be able to do certain tasks but the work quickly turned into a burden when they were forced to work for long hours to deliver products as studies and sleep took a back seat.

Gender roles

The study estimated that there were more than two girls involved in home-based garment related work for each boy in the industry. However, there are certain tasks, such as packaging, where male children are predominantly employed.

On the other hand, girl children took the lead in performing everything else from thread cutting to embroidery and stitching tasks.

Time and distance

Those attending school regularly seemed to work the least as they dedicated two to four hours to work each day while those who didn’t go to school worked four to 10 hours each day. Those working in addas were reported to be devoting more than 10 hours to work every day.

Even though parents said that they would want their children to succeed and not struggle, they saw their child’s success in the struggle. “They felt that if children needed to contribute to cover costs of education and food, then there was no harm in them doing so,” the report said. “The parents saw it as the child’s struggle to have a better future.”

The report said that in some cases, mothers would force their children to work to help with approaching deadlines of their own work or when the family was short of money.

“If you help cut these pieces, I would give you Rs 2,” a mother is quoted in the report as as telling her child.

All work and no pay

While almost half of the respondents said that they were working for money or to support their family, a vast majority of those in households didn’t receive any share of income from the family. According to the report, families seldom parted with income and only shared money around festivals or when children asked for it.

Only 2% of the children surveyed in households were making more than Rs 5,000 a month while almost one in three or 28% were making less than Rs 500 a month and even that amount was unlikely to be shared with them by families depending on the household condition.

On the other hand, 90% of those working in addas were making between Rs 2 500-Rs 5,000 every month.

Expectedly, however, most of these wages were on piece rate basis instead of a fixed monthly amount. Around 86% of the respondents were reported to be working on the piece-based system and only 12% were working on a monthly salary, while one percent each were working on hourly and daily wages.

Point of no return

When quizzed about the interference of the work with their studies the children seemed divided. While 55% of the child labourers felt that it did not come in the way of education, 45% said that it did. However, a majority of respondents displayed a lack of interest in education as nearly 82% said that they would not want to return to education if given a chance.

Surprisingly, 59% of the respondents said that they would choose to do the same work even as an adult. Moreover, 91% said yes to the possibility of working in an adda. A total of 55% respondents, however, said that they would support work in the household.