How Child Labour Menace Will Be Fought By New Education Policy
India’s New Education Policy offers many models through which the issue of child labour can be addressed directly.
India’s New Education Policy offers many models through which the issue of child labour can be addressed directly.(Photo: iStockphoto)

How Child Labour Menace Will Be Fought By New Education Policy

The recently released New Education Policy 2019 (NEP) acknowledges the socio-economic complexity of the issue of child labour. It also offers many models through which the issue of child labour can be addressed directly.

NEP Acknowledges the Learning Crisis in India

In chapter 2, the NEP document recognizes the deeply worrying learning crisis in our country which is a result of lapses in the areas of school preparedness, teacher capacity and deployment, and health and nutrition. There is no debate that if there is quality investment in building a sound foundation in early years, it would eventually reduce “not interested in studies” as one of the causal factors in discontinuation of education.

Also Read : New Education Policy Draft: A ‘5+3+3+4’ System, 4 Yrs of Undergrad

Chapter- 3 states an overall objective of “achieving access and participation in free and compulsory quality school education for all children in the age group of 3-18 years by 2030” in line with the stated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 {Target:1}. The NEP document rightly mentions the problem of access to secondary and upper secondary education as a “serious issue”.

The govt proposes to address the same through upgrading and enlarging existing schools, having more residential and hostel facilities, investing further in aspects like transport, security, inclusive education, as well as opening windows for long-term out of school adolescents etc.

The most important aspect which NEP offers is availability of free and compulsory education for 14-18 years age group to be included as integral part of Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE Act, 2009).

NEP In Sync With Anti-Child Labour Laws

In 2016, the child labour legislation in India went through certain amendments resulting into India becoming a signatory to two conventions of International Labour Organisation (ILO) : Minimum Age for Admission to Employment Convention, 1973 (No. 138) and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182).

Also, as an amendment to the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, two separate categories were defined:

i) Adolescent: “a person who has completed his fourteenth year of age but has not completed his eighteenth year”
ii) Child: “a person who has not completed his fourteenth year of age or such age as may be specified in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, whichever is more.”

In the light of NEP proposal to include secondary education under RTE Act, there would be an amendment in RTE Act and an eventual revision of the definition of child in the Child Labour legislation as well.

This would be a very positive change with tremendous capacity to bring about a sharp decline in the child labour numbers in India. Of course, the above-mentioned changes would need to be backed with tackling deep rooted issues of unemployment and poverty and provision of adequate safety net for children and their families especially those who need special attention because of marginalization faced due to gender, caste, class, ability or disaster.

Also Read : Video: Let’s Bring a Change on World Day Against Child Labour 

Agricultural Child Labour & Rural Trends

In India, around 62 percent of the 33 Million child labourers (both 5-14 year and 15-18 years categories) are engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing. In the 5-14 years category of working children, there is a decline of around 28% in rural working children. However, similar segregation of rural and urban child labourers is not available for 15-18 years category in the last census.

An important amendment in the Child Labour legislation now allows adolescent (15-18 years) to work in any occupation and processes as long it falls within the non-hazardous category. There is a complete ban in hazardous and non-hazardous occupation and processes for children under the age of 14 years, with an exemption of child ‘helping’ the family or family enterprise.

It is safe to assume that more than 60% of the child labourers (under 14 years) and many more ‘help’ their families on fields which puts them at risk with accidents and injuries. This arrangement also obstructs their time to revise their lessons, relax, and engage in recreation and play activities.

NEP lays down a positive path by systematically increasing expenditure for school education in rural areas.

Recognizing mother language (bhasha), having special focus on girls and children with special needs (CWSN), investing in technological advancement in rural areas are also part of the plan. NEP also lays out incentives for school teachers and staff (including merit based scholarship and guaranteed employment in their local area) in rural and tribal areas.

In the long run all these vital aspects envisaged in NEP would certainly contribute in declining child labour trends in rural India.

Education, Skill Development and Child Labour

The world of work is rapidly changing around us eventually also opening various opportunities for children engaged in labour. An education program which fails to equip children with adequate skills and doesn’t prepare them to be part of the future work force acts as a deterrent for children to continue education.

In Chapter- 45, The NEP lays out a plan to reform curriculum and pedagogy to suit the 21st century skills with the proposal of 5+3+3+4 design, where high or secondary stage (Grade 9,10,11 and 12) lays emphasis on core concepts, principles and critical thinking. Also, there would be no hard separation between ‘vocational’ and ‘academic streams’. While not essentially differentiating vocational education from mainstream education, an important change is laid down in Chapter – 206 in the form of National Policy on Skills Development and Entrepreneurship 2015. The plan is to cover all educational institutions – schools, colleges and universities instead of earlier specified percent.

(Anuja is an independent development professional with 13+ years’ experience in the sector. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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