16/06/2016 11:35 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

1.4 Million Child Labourers In India Can't Even Write Their Name

The quest for profit drives businesses across the globe. Is profit not the legitimate purpose of business? The answer seems to be relative. Desperation for profit can manifest itself in many ways. It can bring the best out of enterprises but it can also lead to them plumbing some real lows for lucre -- such as exploiting children and risking their wellbeing and future for cheap labour.

The menace of child labour is rampant in global supply chains, and that's what was chosen as the theme for the World Day Against Child Labour, observed on 12 June. In a recently released video, Human Rights Watch said the governments should better regulate businesses to prevent child labour in global supply chains. While most of us are aware that making children work is unconscionable, it is rampant everywhere. Human Rights Watch noted that child labour is endemic in the early stages of production particularly in the agriculture, mining and apparel sectors.

6.5 million children in India in the age group of 5 to 14 years work in agriculture and household industries.

"Consumers usually have no way of knowing whether the food they eat, the clothing and jewellery they wear, or other products they buy were made with child labour," says Jo Becker at Human Rights Watch. She called for an immediate action plan to end this exploitation of children for profits. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the total number of children involved in child labour globally is around 168 million. Out of this, 85 million are employed in hazardous work that risks their health or safety. Other statistics compiled by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and ILO reveal that nearly 60% of all child labourers -- almost 100 million girls and boys -- work in agriculture.

Regardless of the developed or developing indicators, child labour is a complex issue in many countries. Human Rights Watch has documented children working in gold mines in the Philippines and Tanzania, weaving carpets in Afghanistan, and toiling in tobacco fields in the US and agricultural settlements in the West Bank. There are reports that the tanneries in Bangladesh employ children as young as 11.

How does India fare? "One in every three child labourers in India is illiterate," reveals CRY (Child Rights and You), based on their analysis of Census data. "Close to 1.4 million child labourers in India in the age group of 7-14 years cannot write their name. This is the grim reality of children who work for more than six months in a year,'' noted a media statement of CRY on the occasion of World Day Against Child Labour.

Even for children who support the family economy by working for less than six months in a year, which is very common in a country like India, the situation is not much better. A shocking 2 million of these marginal workers have compromised their education as well. In Bihar, 45% of child labourers are illiterate. In Rajasthan and Jharkhand the figure stands at 40%, while in Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh it is 38%.

According to Census 2011 data for children in labour, 6.5 million children in India in the age group of 5 to 14 years work in agriculture and household industries. CRY reveals that a large number of children engaged in these occupations are working with their families, thus exempting them from the proposed ban on underage employment. The new amendments to the Child Labour Act, 1986, which allows the children below the age of 14 to work in family enterprises, may have far reaching repercussions which affect their education, learning outcomes and health.