The Ugly Truth

Child Labour In The Carpet Industry Of J&K

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Child Labour In The Carpet Industry Of J&K

Kashmir handicrafts have commanded the admiration of the world for centuries because of their exquisite craftsmanship, captivating colours, and designs. The arts and crafts of Kashmir carry the image of the natural topography of the beautiful valley and the efficiency of its people to every nook and cranny of the globe.

The Kashmir handicrafts particularly the carpet industry is economically very significant. Today, the carpet trade accounts for more than half of the total value of the valley’s handicraft exports. It is estimated that around 100,000 people are currently employed in the carpet industry, the vast majority of whom are from rural areas. The carpet industry employs the most children, and children make up a significant portion of the carpet weaving workforce.

Grim Stats Of The Carpet Industry

According to an estimate based on the 1981 census, there are 1.5 million children working in the Kashmir carpet industry. According to Khatri, K. (1983), approximately 80,000 to one lakh children aged 6 to 14 were employed in Kashmir’s carpet weaving industry. Another study by Sudesh Nangia (UNICEF 1988) argued that 25% of the carpet weaving industry’s workforce is under the age of fifteen, and nearly a third of the total workforce is under the age of eight.

A survey conducted by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir (1993) in 302 different areas of all the districts of Kashmir valley where the total number of child workers surveyed in surveyed areas is 11,281 revealed that 91.55% are engaged in various handicraft activities. Carpet weaving accounts for nearly 92.83% of the total child workforce in the handicraft sector.

Census 2011 estimates that 10.1 million children (3.9% of the total child population) are working either as “main workers” or as “marginal workers”. The 2011 census counted 250103 child laborers in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The report titled ‘State of child workers in India: Mapping trends’ published in 2016 also presents a very grim situation.

Source: Report titled State of Child workers in India: Mapping Trends

A report titled “How Far is India from Complete Elimination of Child Labour as per Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8.7,” published by the New Delhi-based Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation in 2020 predicted that J&K will have 64.26 thousand projected child labor population in the 5-14 years age group by 2025. The foundation ranked J&K third in terms of child labor, which gives a good indication of the prevailing bleak situation. According to the report, UT is likely to maintain its third-place ranking in 2025 based on the projected number of children working as laborers.

Menace Of Child Labour: Causes And Consequences

It is confirmed from the above studies that the problem of child labour as a whole as well as in the carpet industry has assumed monstrous dimensions. Every stage of the carpet-making process involves children. At the raw material stage, they are associated with the production of thread balls. They are primarily employed in the weaving process, which is the most strenuous and time-consuming of all the operations involved in carpet production.

Children are preferred because they are hardworking, easily available, easily disciplinable, and occupy less sitting space than an adult. Employers believe that children have flexible muscles and their nimble fingers help in the fine task of carpet weaving.

Also, the carpet industry is labor-intensive, the entrepreneurs try to reduce labour costs and one of the ways to do this is to employ children on very meager wages. As per a research study, nearly 18% of children in urban areas and 14% in rural areas receive very low wages (₹1-4) per day. More than 70% of the children are being paid between five and twelve rupees per day. Another study conducted in 2012 reveals that the monthly earnings of child laborers in the carpet industry were ₹500.

Child labor in the carpet industry has assumed the significance of a “necessary evil”.

Far-Reaching Socio-Economic Repercussions

Employment of children in the carpet weaving industry has far-reaching socio-economic repercussions. Children in these factories work in small, dark, and crowded rooms away from sunshine and fresh air under poor lighting, ill ventilation, and unhygienic conditions. They are exposed to different types of pollutants like fibers, dust, dyes, etc.

As a result, the child workers are subjected to asthma and primary tuberculosis. The hunched-up position in which they work stunts their growth. The majority of children suffer from headaches, poor vision, backache, and abdominal pain. The worst affected is the education of the child. Very few children manage their studies and work simultaneously.

Deprivation of education results in an irreparable loss not only for these children but also for their parents and for society as a whole. Karl Marx once said that “the result of buying the children and young persons of the underage by the capitalist results in physical deterioration and moral degradation.”

His remark is evident in a field study which reveals that in around 80% of cases, the work life in the carpet industry results in moral degradation. Children pick up many unhealthy habits like smoking, gambling, snatching, pickpocketing, etc. The productivity of these victims in later life is lessened, the versatility and adaptability to different occupational conditions are curbed and their mental faculties are not properly developed.

Child Labour Exploited, Dehumanized

The magnitude of the problem of child labor in the carpet industry is severe. From the foregone study, it can be deduced that child labor is a complex problem that stems from low socio-economic status. Furthermore, the traditional mindset and accelerating educated unemployment in the region also contribute to the persistence of child labor.

The working conditions of these tiny hearts in terms of hygiene are horrible. They are exploited in the most dehumanizing way. It is a multifaceted problem that eventually impairs the personality and creativity of future generations. Given the complexity of the problem, a multifarious, multidimensional, involving multiple stakeholders and social partners, with a coordinated and inter-sectoral approach is required. J&K must act fast to prevent child labor from becoming a lasting hurdle in the achievement of SDG 8.7.

The child workers are subjected to asthma and primary tuberculosis. The hunched-up position in which they work stunts their growth. The majority of children suffer from headaches, poor vision, backache, and abdominal pain.

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