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

By Mitesh Badiwala
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.

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

0 3.07 6. Human rights organizations tend to focus on the manufacturing types of child labour because most children in these situations are bonded labourers.30 IX 16.Table 1.45 0.1) (Bequele and Boyden cited in Grootaert and Kanbur 1995. In some cases. However.74 III 3.20 0.7 6.1 – Comparision of child wages and adult wages for the same type of job. other sources of income are hard to find.10 0.47 0. studies show that children are paid less than adult workers (see Table 2. Parents want to support their decision to end their children to work by saying that it is essential.93 II 14.03 0. For equivalent work.16 5.77 1. Still. and for children this is usually a parent’s debt (HRW 1996. they are probably right.30 IV 0. 195). there is a questionable side to this study because the parents of the child labourers gave the answers to the survey.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. Table 2. Estimates place the number of bonded child labourers in India at close to one million [International Labour Organisation (ILO) 1992. Type of Worker Urban Rural Total Industrial Divisions (refer to text for explanation of divisions) I 5. 1983.72 VII 15. cited in Nangia 1987.27 0.87 35.73 45. (Child workers of Delhi region – sample study.60 2. This study reveals that a child’s income is important to the livelihood of a poor family. the study found that a child’s income was between 34 and 37 percent of the total household income. 198) Equal Percent according to employers response 39. Table 1.96 2.25 0.24 V 39.42 42. 8).5 Equal to Half 19. 72).19 VIII 2. 15]. 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.1 shows the percentage distribution of child workers by these industrial divisions in 1981.1 Child wages compared to adult wages Half to One-third to Less than One-third One-quarter One quarter 7. A study conducted by the ILO Bureau of Statistics found that “Children’s work was considered essential…” (Mehra-Kerpelman 1996.61 6.1 Percentage distribution of child workers (in India) by industrial divisions In 1981 (Census of India 1981 cited in Nangia 1987.32 38.1 Uncertain 24. for most poor families in India.65 VI 3. Bonded labourers work in conditions similar to slavery in order to pay off a loan. 2).7 .72 8.

The government needs eight and a half billion dollars for the program over five years. 8). 30). collect statistics to monitor enforcement of the laws (HRW 1996. but do not. some parents feel that children should work in order to develop useful skills. p. if existent.What role does poverty play? The percentage of the population of India living in poverty is high. children are a source of additional income. is ineffective. the number of child labourers and their work participation rates show that enforcement. Poverty has an obvious relationship with child labour (MehraKerpelman 1996. 174). Even though poverty is cited as the major cause of child labour. For the poor. Where the funds for this program are is unknown. 37% of the urban population and 39% of the rural population were living in poverty (ILO 1995. . 63. Families need money to survive. 17) and the child must continues to work until the loan is repaid. 131). 120). In 1994 the Elimination of Child Labour Programme was designed which promised to end child labour by the year 2000. In 1990.74% of child labourers said that poverty was the reason they worked (1987. 119-120). The Bonded Lbaour System Act of 1976 also ended forced labour by law and freed all bonded labourers (HRW 1996. (HRW 1996. Poor schools. For a small amount parents exchange their child’s labour for money (HRW 1996. there are few sources of loans of any type – and even if there are sources available. 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. The attitudes of parents also contribute to child labour. Although the lack of data does not mean enforcement is nonexistent. few Indians living in poverty qualify. Enforcement is the key. 29). All the policies that the Indian government has support the eradication of Child Labour but the problem remains. 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. 17). it is not the only cause. the loan grows. Officials should. or even the expenses of schooling leaves some children with little else to do but work. 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. Indian Government Policy on Child Labour Since its independence. 107). It is impossible for the poor to pay off such loans (HRW 1996. No enforcement data for child labour laws is available. Since the salary of a bonded child labourer is less than the interest on the loan. According to Nangia. a lack of schools.

and so no matter how good schools are. and also affect each other.3% for males and 4.Education and its effects on child labour What is the current state of education in India in comparison to other developing countries? India’s state of education is not effective enough to give basic literacy skills to the population. 113). .0% was also lower than China’s rate of 70% and Sri Lanka’s rate of 90. In this case. 173). 176). a literacy rate of 94% for males and 86% for females (The World Bank 1995.6% for females (ILO 1995. This causes parents to take children from school and place them in the labour force (p. school completion rates and literacy rates will still remain low. where all school-aged children are required to attend school. With this compulsory education policy. 113). 159). fights the poverty that pulls children out of school. Kerala spends more money on schoollevel education than colleges and universities (Weiner 1991. The Sri Lankan government decided to enforce compulsory education in the 1920’s and 1930’s (Weiner 1991. 113). Compulsory Education The concept of compulsory education. poverty and the inadequacy of the school system play significant roles in causing child labour. school participation rates rose from 58 percent in 1946 to 74 percent in 1963 (Weiner 1991. The corresponding result has been that the employment rate of children in the ten to fourteen age group has declined substantially (Weiner 1991. but also contribute funds to the primary education system. and dropout rates support this conclusion. and currently stands at 5. 113). Rates measures by the Department of Education show that 3. 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 1995.8% (UNESCO cited in Weiner 1991. Kerala’s emphasis on primary education has lead to a dropout rate of close to 0%. 172). Why? One possible reason given by Nangia (1987) is that the family needs money and thinks school is a waste of time.5% of males and 39% of females drop out (Government of India cited in the World Bank 1995. Poverty forces high dropout rates.182). 174). 175). The 1991 Census of India shows that 64% of males and 39% of females were literate (The World Bank 1995. The Indian state of Kerala distinguishes itself from the rest of India with its educational system (Weiner 1991. instead of higher education. 173). Policies relating to compulsory education not only force children to attend school. An example of a country where compulsory education has worked to reduce child labour is Sri Lanka. The literacy rate also increased from 58 percent in 1946 to 86 percent in 1984 (Weiner 1991. India’s primary – school completion rate of 38. 193). Few students are reaching fifth or sixth grade.

Poverty plays a role in the ineffectiveness of the educational system. This goal has not been reached yet. The examples of Sri Lanka and Kerala show that compulsory education has worked in those areas. for example education. 175). 219). If child labour is to be stopped in India. The Constitution of India clearly states that child labour is wrong and that measures should be taken to end it. Education in India also needs to be improved. Its prevalence is shown by child work participation rates which are higher in India than in other developing countries. and stopping child labour. or is found to be inadequate.1% in 1971 (Weiner 1991. In some areas. the government and those responsible for enforcement need to start doing their jobs. In addition to poverty. Weiner (1991) also points out that “The Kerala government has made no special effort to end child labour. If poverty is addressed. The government of India must ensure that the needs of the poor are filled before attacking child labour. High illiteracy and dropout rates reflect the low quality of the educational system. children inevitably spend their time working. Child labour cannot be eliminated by focusing on one cause. This Act does not make all child labour illegal. and that children learn work skills through working. (p.9% (in 1971). 177). It is the expansion of the school system rather than the enforcement of labour legislation that has reduced the amount of child labour”. the lack of adequate and accessible sources of credit forces poor parents to use their children as bonded child labourers. or by strict enforcement of child labour laws. The government of India has set a minimum age of employment. Policies without enforcement are useless. Some parents also feel that a formal education is not useful. The attitudes of the parents also contribute to the lack of enrollment. 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. This compares to the Indian average of 7. the need for child labour will automatically be reduced. Hopefully the future will show that progress will be made towards universal education. Despite policies enforcement is a problem.and a low child work participation rate of 1. Another cause is poor access to education. education is not affordable. The major cause of child labour is poverty. With no other alternatives. Conclusion Child labour is a significant problem in India. . Dropout rates are high because children are forced to work in order to support their families. whatever income they earn is of benefit to poor families. Compulsory education may help in regard to these attitudes. Even though children are paid less than adults are.

Ledwell and Rivard Mar/01 Source: Child Labour Inquiry http://www.geocties. A cycle of poverty is formed and the need for child labour is constant from one generation to the next. Only then will India succeed in the fight against child labour. Content Copyright © 1998 Mitesh badiwala/Edited by MacLeod.htm . Bouscaren. India needs to deal with the underlying causes of child labour and the enforcement of grow up illiterate because they are working and not attending school.

In paragraph 7 “reveals” is closest in meaning to: a) hides b) disagrees c) shows d) questions 2. In paragraph 14 “eradication” is closest in meaning to: a) population b) implementation c) transformation d) destruction 4. 1. In paragraph 24 “constant” is closest in meaning to: a) changing b) unstable c) steady e) reduced . In paragraph 21 “inevitably” is closest in meaning to: a) inconstantly b) unhappily c) imprecisely d) unavoidably 5.Child Labour in India Causes. In paragraph 8 “equivalent” is closest in meaning to: a) similar b) unequal c) more d) different 3. 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.

7. Write your answers on the answer sheet (a) . Paragraphs 16 – 19: Compulsory Education Fill in the missing information. In paragraph 2 what does “it” refer to? In paragraph 10 which word or words mean “people living in poverty.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. In paragraph 16 what two things are in opposition to each other? 10.Short answer questions: write you answers on the answer sheet Word limits: 8 words max. In paragraph 15 what two things does “each other” refer to? 9. for each question 6.(e). Sri Lanka paragraph 17 Kerala paragraph 18 Solutions to child labour problem (a) ______________________ More money for primary schools School Participation rates 58% .9% in Kerala In paragraph 20 what does “Its” refer to? . 11.” 8.

c) 24. d) The Indian government gives children meals and money if they do not work. d) Children who work in manufacturing are happier than children in cities. d) Parents do not want their children to work even if it necessary. c) Children work because it is necessary.1: Choose the true statement a) Only about 40% of child labourers earn the same amount as adult labourers. c) Children reported that they earn less than ¼ the amount adults earn. b) The highest percentage of child labourers in cities are working in manufacturing. d) Employers report that 50% of children earn the same amounts as adults.1: Choose the true statement a) Among urban child labourers most children work in cultivation. c) Manufacturing employs older children who know their rights and complain more. 16. Paragraphs 12-14: Indian Government Policy on Child Labour a) Since independence the Indian government has encouraged children to work. Table 1. b) Most children in manufacturing work in poor conditions as bonded labourers. Paragraphs 5-6: The problem of child labour in India a) Human rights organizations don’t know anything about rural children who work. 12. b) The Indian government has laws against children working that it does not enforce. 15. 14. For some questions you must look at more than one paragraph. 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. 13. b) Half to one third of people think that children and adults earn the same amount. c) Children and parents want the government to make laws against child labour. Table 2. d) About 20% of urban children work in mining and quarrying. .5% of urban child labourers work in the area of transport.Main Ideas Choose the statement that best gives the main idea for the reading section identified.

b) Governments can reduce child labour rates. school competition rates and literacy rates will still remain low. c) Kerala and Sir Lanka have high drop out rates. c) Child labour should be make illegal. d) Literacy will go up in the next decade.” Why is the author’s statement (above) true? a) b) c) d) Poor people need money more than education. 18. India has the best schools of all the developing countries. Paragraphs 15: Education and its effects on child labour In paragraph 15. Poor people have learning difficulties. . 19. Paragraphs 16-19: Compulsory Education a) India has excellent schooling up to sixth grade. d) Poverty should be eliminated.17. Paragraphs 24: Conclusion What does the author suggest to eliminate the need for child labour? a) Schools should be improved. The Department of Education needs to enforce education laws. “Poverty forces high dropout rates and so no matter how good schools are. b) Compulsory education should be enforced. the author writes.

Child Labour in India: Causes. a b c d (b) ________% ½ mark 4. a b c d (c ) ________% ½ mark 5. _____________________________ _____________________________ 11. (a) _______________ 2. c. a b c d 8. a b c d 9. a b c d 19. a b c d 18. a b c d 16. a b c d 10. and _____________________________ _____________________________ 14. d & e are ½ mark each Score : ___________/21 All other questions are 1 mark. _________________________ _________________________ 7. Percent: __________% . a b c d 3. a b c d (d) ________ % ½ mark (e) ________% ½ mark _______________ Questions 6 – 11 Word limit – 8 words each question 6. Section: ………………………………. Governmental Policies and the Role of Education 1. a b c d 17. _____________________________ _____________________________ 12.Student Name: ………………………. a b c d Question 10 b. a b c d 13. and _____________________________ _____________________________ 15.