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Child Labour in India: Causes, Governmental Policies and the role of

Education
By Mitesh Badiwala
Introduction
The issue of child labour is a developmental issue worth studying. The idea that
children are being exploited and forced into labour concerns many people. India
is a good example of a nation which suffers from the problem of child labour
[Human Rights Watch (HRW) 1996, 1].
What are the causes of child labour in India? How do governmental policies
affect it? What role does education play in regard to child labour in India? The
answers to these questions may lead us to possible solutions.
This article discusses the problem of child labour, how common it is and the
types, the role of poverty and government policies. Education policies and their
relationship to child labour are described. In addition, solutions to some aspects
of this problem will be offered.
The problem of child labour in India
How many children are involved?
It is difficult to monitor the current number of children engaged in child labour.
This is because the Indian Government does not collect or analyze current data
regarding child labour. Collecting information is difficult because people know
child labour is against the law and they do not want to get into trouble (Devi
1985, 37). Many official figures continue to be based on information gathered in
1981 (HRW 1996, 122). UNICEF estimates that there may be from seventy-five
to ninety million child labourers under the age of fourteen (HRW 1996, 122).
What are children doing in terms of work?
The 1981 Census of India (cited in Nangia 1987, 72) divided child labour into
nine industrial divisions.
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.
VI.
VII.
VIII.
IX.

Cultivation,
Agricultural Labour,
Livestock, Forestry, Fishing, Plantation,
Mining and Quarrying,
Manufacturing, Processing, Servicing and Repairs,
Construction,
Trade and Commerce
Transport, Storage and Communication, and
Other Services

Table 1.1 shows the percentage distribution of child workers by these industrial
divisions in 1981.
Human rights organizations tend to focus on the
manufacturing types of child labour because most children in these situations are
bonded labourers. Bonded labourers work in conditions similar to slavery in
order to pay off a loan, and for children this is usually a parents debt (HRW
1996, 2). Estimates place the number of bonded child labourers in India at close
to one million [International Labour Organisation (ILO) 1992, 15].
Table 1.1 Percentage distribution of child workers (in India) by industrial divisions
In 1981 (Census of India 1981 cited in Nangia 1987, 72).
Type of
Worker
Urban
Rural
Total

Industrial Divisions (refer to text for explanation of divisions)


I
5.32
38.87
35.93

II
14.73
45.42
42.74

III
3.07
6.61
6.30

IV
0.20
0.25
0.24

V
39.16
5.72
8.65

VI
3.27
0.47
0.72

VII
15.03
0.96
2.19

VIII
2.45
0.10
0.30

IX
16.77
1.60
2.93

Causes of child labour in India and governmental policy in dealing with it


How necessary is child labour to families in India?
Child labour is a source of income for poor families. A study conducted by the
ILO Bureau of Statistics found that Childrens work was considered essential
(Mehra-Kerpelman 1996, 8). In some cases, the study found that a childs
income was between 34 and 37 percent of the total household income. This
study reveals that a childs income is important to the livelihood of a poor family.
However, there is a questionable side to this study because the parents of the
child labourers gave the answers to the survey. Parents want to support their
decision to end their children to work by saying that it is essential. Still, they are
probably right; for most poor families in India, other sources of income are hard
to find. There are no social welfare systems and no easy way to get a loan/
What is clear is the fact that child labourers are being exploited. For equivalent
work, studies show that children are paid less than adult workers (see Table 2.1)
(Bequele and Boyden cited in Grootaert and Kanbur 1995, 195).
Table 2.1 Comparision of child wages and adult wages for the same type of job.
(Child workers of Delhi region sample study, 1983, cited in Nangia 1987, 198)
Equal
Percent
according
to
employers
response

39.5

Equal to
Half
19.1

Child wages compared to adult wages


Half to
One-third to Less than
One-third
One-quarter One quarter
7.0

3.7

6.1

Uncertain

24.7

What role does poverty play?


The percentage of the population of India living in poverty is high. In 1990, 37%
of the urban population and 39% of the rural population were living in poverty
(ILO 1995, 107). Poverty has an obvious relationship with child labour (MehraKerpelman 1996, 8). Families need money to survive; children are a source of
additional income. According to Nangia, 63.74% of child labourers said that
poverty was the reason they worked (1987, p. 174).
The combination of poverty and the lack of a social security network form the
basis of an even worse type of child labour bonded child labour. For the poor,
there are few sources of loans of any type and even if there are sources
available, few Indians living in poverty qualify. For a small amount parents
exchange their childs labour for money (HRW 1996, 17). Since the salary of a
bonded child labourer is less than the interest on the loan, the loan grows. It is
impossible for the poor to pay off such loans (HRW 1996, 17) and the child must
continues to work until the loan is repaid.
Even though poverty is cited as the major cause of child labour, it is not the only
cause. Poor schools, a lack of schools, or even the expenses of schooling
leaves some children with little else to do but work. The attitudes of parents also
contribute to child labour; some parents feel that children should work in order to
develop useful skills.
Indian Government Policy on Child Labour
Since its independence, India has made a commitment to work against child
labour and government laws do not allow children to work under the age of 14
(Constitution of India cited in HRW 1996, 29). The Bonded Lbaour System Act of
1976 also ended forced labour by law and freed all bonded labourers (HRW
1996, 30).
In 1994 the Elimination of Child Labour Programme was designed which
promised to end child labour by the year 2000. It promised children a one
hundred rupee payment as well as one meal a day for attending school instead
of working (Human Rights Watch 1996, 119-120). Where the funds for this
program are is unknown. The government needs eight and a half billion dollars
for the program over five years. (HRW 1996, 120).
All the policies that the Indian government has support the eradication of Child
Labour but the problem remains. Enforcement is the key. No enforcement data
for child labour laws is available. Officials should, but do not, collect statistics to
monitor enforcement of the laws (HRW 1996, 131). Although the lack of data
does not mean enforcement is nonexistent, the number of child labourers and
their work participation rates show that enforcement, if existent, is ineffective.

Education and its effects on child labour


What is the current state of education in India in comparison to other developing
countries?
Indias state of education is not effective enough to give basic literacy skills to the
population. It has been observed that the overall condition of the education
system can be a powerful influence on the supply of child labour (Grootaert and
Kanbur 1995, 193). The 1991 Census of India shows that 64% of males and
39% of females were literate (The World Bank 1995, 113). Indias primary
school completion rate of 38.0% was also lower than Chinas rate of 70% and Sri
Lankas rate of 90.8% (UNESCO cited in Weiner 1991, 159). Few students are
reaching fifth or sixth grade, and dropout rates support this conclusion. Rates
measures by the Department of Education show that 3.5% of males and 39% of
females drop out (Government of India cited in the World Bank 1995, 113).
Why? One possible reason given by Nangia (1987) is that the family needs
money and thinks school is a waste of time. This causes parents to take children
from school and place them in the labour force (p.182). In this case, poverty and
the inadequacy of the school system play significant roles in causing child labour,
and also affect each other. Poverty forces high dropout rates, and so no matter
how good schools are, school completion rates and literacy rates will still remain
low.
Compulsory Education
The concept of compulsory education, where all school-aged children are
required to attend school, fights the poverty that pulls children out of school.
Policies relating to compulsory education not only force children to attend school,
but also contribute funds to the primary education system, instead of higher
education.
An example of a country where compulsory education has worked to reduce child
labour is Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government decided to enforce compulsory
education in the 1920s and 1930s (Weiner 1991, 173). With this compulsory
education policy, school participation rates rose from 58 percent in 1946 to 74
percent in 1963 (Weiner 1991, 173). The literacy rate also increased from 58
percent in 1946 to 86 percent in 1984 (Weiner 1991, 172). The corresponding
result has been that the employment rate of children in the ten to fourteen age
group has declined substantially (Weiner 1991, 174), and currently stands at
5.3% for males and 4.6% for females (ILO 1995, 113).
The Indian state of Kerala distinguishes itself from the rest of India with its
educational system (Weiner 1991, 175). Kerala spends more money on schoollevel education than colleges and universities (Weiner 1991, 176). Keralas
emphasis on primary education has lead to a dropout rate of close to 0%, a
literacy rate of 94% for males and 86% for females (The World Bank 1995, 113),

and a low child work participation rate of 1.9% (in 1971). This compares to the
Indian average of 7.1% in 1971 (Weiner 1991, 175). Weiner (1991) also points
out that The Kerala government has made no special effort to end child labour.
It is the expansion of the school system rather than the enforcement of labour
legislation that has reduced the amount of child labour. (p. 177).
Article 45 of the Constitution of India states that The State shall endeavour to
provide within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution
for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of
fourteen years (Jain 1985, 219). This goal has not been reached yet.
Conclusion
Child labour is a significant problem in India. Its prevalence is shown by child
work participation rates which are higher in India than in other developing
countries.
The major cause of child labour is poverty. Even though children are paid less
than adults are, whatever income they earn is of benefit to poor families. In
addition to poverty, the lack of adequate and accessible sources of credit forces
poor parents to use their children as bonded child labourers. Some parents also
feel that a formal education is not useful, and that children learn work skills
through working. Another cause is poor access to education. In some areas,
education is not affordable, or is found to be inadequate. With no other
alternatives, children inevitably spend their time working.
The Constitution of India clearly states that child labour is wrong and that
measures should be taken to end it. The government of India has set a minimum
age of employment. This Act does not make all child labour illegal. Despite
policies enforcement is a problem. If child labour is to be stopped in India, the
government and those responsible for enforcement need to start doing their jobs.
Policies without enforcement are useless.
Education in India also needs to be improved. High illiteracy and dropout rates
reflect the low quality of the educational system. Poverty plays a role in the
ineffectiveness of the educational system. Dropout rates are high because
children are forced to work in order to support their families. The attitudes of the
parents also contribute to the lack of enrollment. Compulsory education may
help in regard to these attitudes. The examples of Sri Lanka and Kerala show
that compulsory education has worked in those areas. Hopefully the future will
show that progress will be made towards universal education, and stopping child
labour.
Child labour cannot be eliminated by focusing on one cause, for example
education, or by strict enforcement of child labour laws. The government of India
must ensure that the needs of the poor are filled before attacking child labour. If
poverty is addressed, the need for child labour will automatically be reduced.

Children grow up illiterate because they are working and not attending school. A
cycle of poverty is formed and the need for child labour is constant from one
generation to the next. India needs to deal with the underlying causes of child
labour and the enforcement of laws. Only then will India succeed in the fight
against child labour.

Content Copyright 1998 Mitesh badiwala/Edited by MacLeod, Bouscaren, Ledwell and Rivard
Mar/01
Source: Child Labour Inquiry http://www.geocties.com/CollegePark/Library/9175/inquiry1.htm

Child Labour in India


Causes, Governmental Polices and the Role of Education
Vocabulary in context: circle the letter on the answer sheet that represents
the best answer for each question.
1.

In paragraph 7 reveals is closest in meaning to:


a)
hides
b)
disagrees
c)
shows
d)
questions

2.

In paragraph 8 equivalent is closest in meaning to:


a)
similar
b)
unequal
c)
more
d)
different

3.

In paragraph 14 eradication is closest in meaning to:


a)
population
b)
implementation
c)
transformation
d)
destruction

4.

In paragraph 21 inevitably is closest in meaning to:


a)
inconstantly
b)
unhappily
c)
imprecisely
d)
unavoidably

5.

In paragraph 24 constant is closest in meaning to:


a)
changing
b)
unstable
c)
steady
e)
reduced

Short answer questions: write you answers on the answer sheet


Word limits: 8 words max. for each question
6.
7.

In paragraph 2 what does it refer to?


In paragraph 10 which word or words mean people living in poverty.

8.

In paragraph 15 what two things does each other refer to?

9.

In paragraph 16 what two things are in opposition to each other?

10.

Paragraphs 16 19: Compulsory Education


Fill in the missing information. Write your answers on the answer sheet (a) - (e).

11.

Sri Lanka
paragraph 17

Kerala
paragraph 18

Solutions to child
labour problem

(a) ______________________

More money for primary


schools

School
Participation rates

58% - 74%

Literacy rates

58% in 1946
86% in 1984

(b) _____% men in 1995


(c) _____ %women in 1995

Child
employment rates

(d) ______% boys


(e) ______ % girls

1.9% in Kerala

In paragraph 20 what does Its refer to?

Main Ideas
Choose the statement that best gives the main idea for the reading section
identified. For some questions you must look at more than one paragraph.
12.

Paragraphs 5-6: The problem of child labour in India


a) Human rights organizations dont know anything about rural children
who work.
b) Most children in manufacturing work in poor conditions as bonded
labourers.
c) Manufacturing employs older children who know their rights and
complain more.
d) Children who work in manufacturing are happier than children in cities.

13.

Table 1.1: Choose the true statement


a) Among urban child labourers most children work in cultivation.
b) The highest percentage of child labourers in cities are working in
manufacturing.
c) 24.5% of urban child labourers work in the area of transport.
d) About 20% of urban children work in mining and quarrying.

14.

Paragraph 7: Causes of child labour in India & governmental policy


dealing with it
a) Children work because they enjoy learning a skill.
b) Parents want their children to work after school.
c) Children work because it is necessary.
d) Parents do not want their children to work even if it necessary.

15.

Table 2.1: Choose the true statement


a) Only about 40% of child labourers earn the same amount as adult
labourers.
b) Half to one third of people think that children and adults earn the same
amount.
c) Children reported that they earn less than the amount adults earn.
d) Employers report that 50% of children earn the same amounts as
adults.

16.

Paragraphs 12-14: Indian Government Policy on Child Labour


a) Since independence the Indian government has encouraged children
to work.
b) The Indian government has laws against children working that it does
not enforce.
c) Children and parents want the government to make laws against child
labour.
d) The Indian government gives children meals and money if they do not
work.

17.

Paragraphs 15: Education and its effects on child labour


In paragraph 15, the author writes,
Poverty forces high dropout rates and so no matter how good schools
are, school competition rates and literacy rates will still remain low.
Why is the authors statement (above) true?
a)
b)
c)
d)

Poor people need money more than education.


India has the best schools of all the developing countries.
Poor people have learning difficulties.
The Department of Education needs to enforce education laws.

18.

Paragraphs 16-19: Compulsory Education


a) India has excellent schooling up to sixth grade.
b) Governments can reduce child labour rates.
c) Kerala and Sir Lanka have high drop out rates.
d) Literacy will go up in the next decade.

19.

Paragraphs 24: Conclusion


What does the author suggest to eliminate the need for child labour?
a) Schools should be improved.
b) Compulsory education should be enforced.
c) Child labour should be make illegal.
d) Poverty should be eliminated.

Student Name: .
Section: .

Child Labour in India: Causes,


Governmental Policies and the Role of
Education
1.

a b c d

10.

(a)

_______________

2.

a b c d

3.

a b c d

(b) ________%

mark

4.

a b c d

(c ) ________%

mark

5.

a b c d

(d) ________ %

mark

(e) ________%

mark

_______________

Questions 6 11
Word limit 8 words each question
6.

_____________________________
_____________________________

11.

_________________________
_________________________

7.

_____________________________
_____________________________

12.

13.

8.
and

_____________________________
_____________________________

14.

9.
and

_____________________________
_____________________________

15.

16.

17.

18.

19.

Question 10 b, c, d & e are mark each

Score : ___________/21

All other questions are 1 mark.

Percent: __________%