MUMBAI: Bollywood star Anil Kapoor on Friday kick-started a campaign to highlight the plight of millions of children in India who are forced into work, adding that he hoped his celebrity status would influence and inspire others to stamp out the practice.
The campaign run by the children's charity Plan India aims to use Kapoor - a veteran Hindi film actor with a career spanning three decades - to raise awareness and encourage the public to shake off apathy linked to decades of social acceptance of child labor.
Kapoor, best known internationally for his role in Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning 2008 film 'Slumdog Millionaire', said millions of children in the country were being exploited, largely due to poverty, and as a result not going to school.
"Our economic progress loses a lot of meaning if hundreds of thousands of children have no hopes of a future," Kapoor told a news conference launching the campaign in Mumbai.
"Child labor and exploitation must end. We are all responsible for coming generations and the world we leave to them. It is time our movement became everybody's movement."
Census data shows there were 4.35 million laborers aged between five and 14 in 2011 against 12.66 million a decade ago - although activists say the figures are under-reported.
A February 2015 report by the International Labor Organization puts the number of child workers in India aged between five and 17 at 5.7 million, out of 168 million globally.
More than half are in agriculture, toiling in cotton, sugarcane and rice paddy fields where they are often exposed to pesticides and risk injury from sharp tools and heavy equipment.
Over a quarter work in manufacturing - confined to poorly lit, barely ventilated rooms in slums, embroidering clothes, weaving carpets, making matchsticks or rolling beedi cigarettes.
Children also work in restaurants and hotels, washing dishes and chopping vegetables, or in middle-class homes, cleaning and scrubbing floors.
Kapoor said he joined the campaign as he wanted to be a positive role model and hoped his actions would inspire others to see how child labor was an abusive practice which was robbing children of their future.
He said that parents should also realize that while they needed the income earned by their children, it was important to focus on their education.
"It is mainly because these kids are so easily exploitable. Plus the problem is compounded by poverty," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the event.
"So many times household help will bring their kids to work, but the focus should be on educating these children, not on getting them to work too."