With online portal, India turns to technology to end child labour

An Indian child breaks apart broken tiles alongside her mother outside an under-construction apartment building in Mumbai. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - India's government launched an online portal on Tuesday (Sept 26) to register, rescue and rehabilitate child workers, as part of a drive to curb the exploitation of millions of minors.

India's 2011 census found more than 4 million labourers aged between five and 14, out of 168 million globally, but campaigners say millions more are at risk due to poverty.

The portal, Platform for Effective Enforcement for No Child Labour, or Pencil, aims to bring together officials, charities and police at federal, state and district level to share information and coordinate on child labour cases.

"The Pencil portal brings together stakeholders at all levels so that anyone anywhere can register a case of child labour and that an investigation can happen quickly," India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh said at its launch.

"But the existence of Pencil is not enough to end child labour in India. I believe that we need to promote awareness at every level to ensure everyone knows about it."

Since taking office in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has introduced several measures aimed at eradicating child labour by 2025.

India has one of largest populations of children in the world, with more than 40 per cent of its 1.2 billion people below the age of 18, according to its 2011 census.

The portal - which includes a child tracking system, complaints corner and standard operating procedures for officials, police and charities - aims to boost weak enforcement of child labour prohibition laws.

Districts will be expected to designate an official to investigate child labour complaints registered on the site within 48 hours and, together with local police, rescue the children, a Labour Ministry statement said.

The portal will also track support given to victims, such as enrolment in school or vocational training, to ensure the child is not forced back into work.

An economic boom of the last two decades has lifted millions in India out of poverty, yet it is home to almost a third of the world's 385 million poorest children, according to the World Bank and the United Nations children's agency (Unicef).

They make easy prey for traffickers, fed promises of work and a better life but often ending up in forced labour.

More than half of India's child workers are employed in agriculture and more than a quarter in manufacturing - embroidering clothes, weaving carpets or making match sticks.

Children also work in restaurants and hotels and as domestic workers. Many girls are sold to brothels for sexual slavery.

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