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Child Labour in India

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 218 child labourers in the world (ILO, 2006). In 1991, there were approximately 11.3 million child labourers in India, with 2 million of those children working in highly dangerous situations (2004). However, as of late 2000 the ILO states that there are now 10.4 million child labourers in India. It important to stress that these children are working because they do not have a choice, Mummun Jha argues more specifically that, “they come not from the well-off households but from marginalized sections that are already the hardest hit, such as the children of the poor, the lower castes, and the female” (2009, p. 217). In India, there are a variety of complex social and economic factors for why children are working. These reasons can include: a lack of access to education and unemployed parents (Venkatanarayana, 2004). Commonly, poverty is said to be the cause of child labour, yet it can also be a result of child labour as well. Zubair Kabir argues that a cycle of poverty can exist within child labour and India is no exception (2003). Thus, this keeps children in India in a disadvantaged state because they are denied access to education and as a result, will not learn any new skills for a higher paying job (Kabir, 2003). In addition to the lack of education, child labour can pose serious health risks to children. They are often exposed to unsanitary and dangerous situations because employers will not provide basic health measures due to the low-income employment child labourers commonly do and the lack of governmental regulations that exist (2003). Due to children working in the low-income sector of the workplace, this decreases the value of work for adults and thus, adult unemployment rises. With poorly paid, unskilled children working in unsafe conditions, these children will become the future generation in India; and therefore, child labour continues the cycle of poverty (2003).

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Another important social factor that causes child labour in India is the deeply ingrained cultural values that have existed for decades (Kabir, 2003). Often girls are left out of statistics regarding child labour because sometimes they do not work in the formal sectors of child labour such as factories; rather they participate in domestic labour (Das & Mishra, 2005). Mummun Jha states that there is an abundance of poverty in India and thus the,

Situation is worsened by the fact that for the poor families in India, alternative sources of income are non-existent. There are no social welfare systems as those in the West. There are fewer sources of bank loans, government loans, or other credit sources. What is available is usually for the relatively better off (2009, p. 211).

India has passed some legislation regarding the well being of children. India did sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 (Jha, 2009). However, the Indian government has not signed off on Convention 138 on Minimum Age (1973) and Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (1999) which to the ILO is considered very progressive in regard to the law against child labour (2009). The Indian government maintains due to their decentralized style of government, only the individual states in India have the constitutional power to change the law regarding the minimum age (2009). As a result, millions of Indian children are working illegally (2009).

I feel passionate about eliminating child labour in my lifetime and I feel educating individuals, especially youth about the effects of child labour is crucial in achieving this goal. In this paper, I will argue that child labour is a detriment to the development of less economically developed countries because it prevents access to education, especially to young girls, it risks the health of young children, and decreases the value of adult work; thus weakening the economic growth of a country by perpetuating poverty.

Theoretical Backing:

W.W. Rostow’s theory on the stages of economic growth provides a justification for why child labour exists today. Rostow presented a model of economic growth in the 1960s and it provides a theory on why some countries developed economically while others did not, in his book called The Stages of Economic Growth (1960). Rostow would make the argument that child labour is necessary for some countries to industrialize as there were some forms of child labour during the Industrial Revolution in Europe (Venkatanarayana, 2004). Further applying Rostow’s theory of economic development to child labour, another possible explanation for why it still exists today is because LECDs are employing child labourers in order to compete with multi-national corporations and other more economically developed countries. Most countries employing young children are stuck in Rostow’s second stage known as ‘pre-conditions for take-off’, which can be characterized by a need to develop a surplus of wealth in order to increase investment in transportation, communication and natural source exploitation (1960). Whereas, many other industrialized countries are in Rostow’s final stage of economic development known as ‘mass consumption’, which can be characterized by a growing demand for consumer goods and services, incomes being greater than necessary for buying essentials and an increase in investment by society in health, education and social programs (1960). As a result, Rostow would make the argument that child labour is necessary for economic development in LEDCs, and in order to move through the stages of development, from ‘pre-conditions for take-off’ to ‘mass consumption’ (Rostow, 1960).

Research and Analysis:

Child labour is detrimental to the development of less economically developed countries because it presents a barrier to the education system for children in India. “Many scholars and activists now see a direct relationship between education and child labour” (Jha, 2009, 210). Traditionally, education was only accessible to the upper caste levels (2009). Furthermore, old, cultural values still exist in India today; for example, education is not thought of for people in the lower castes, in particular females (2009).

Kumar Das and Sarojini Mishra (2005) focus specifically on the economic effects of child labour on girls in India. Das and Mishra state that child labour for young girls is related to the deeply ingrained cultural factors such as, caste, religion, family type and size. Thus, girls belonging to the lower caste acquire little to no education and as a result are forced into child labour to help her family financially. Das and Mishra also highlight that much of the research done on child labourers in India focuses on children forced to work in factories; whereas many young girls are experiencing child labour in the informal work sector, such as working at home, but are still exploited (2005). Das and Mishra conclude that better understanding of the causes, consequences of child labour, the labour market and emphasis on the importance of primary school for girls in India is crucial for eliminating child labour (2005).

Similar to Das and Mishra, studies conducted by Rubiana Chamarbagwala (2008), provides evidence that the overall increase of availability of primary education in India will not only increase the number of children attending school, but it will also decrease the chances of girls and boys working in factories. It is important to point out that a simple increase in the availability of education in India would not solve the number of young girls who watch their brothers go to school while they work in the unpaid labour force, and are still being exploited. Unlike other literature focused on child labour in India, Chamarbagwala states that governmental policies should be implemented that will increase the economic benefits of education, and thus provide an incentive for families to send their children to school rather than to work.

Mitesh Badiwala argues for a solution for the lack of access to education due to child labour. He states that even if the schools in India are good, the economic benefits out weight the educational benefits for Indian parents and as a result poverty raises the dropout rates (1998). Therefore, India should implement compulsory schooling for children. It is also important to point out that with children in school, the availability of jobs for adults will increase. The idea of mandatory school requires policies to be enacted and these policies can help provide funds for the primary school system (1998). In addition, Badiwala points out that this idea of compulsory education worked for the Indian state of Kerala, which spends a lot of money on education and has the highest literacy rate in the country (1998).

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Recent research conducted by the International Labour Organization (2009), has stated the most recent global economic crisis that occurred in 2008 could increase the number of girls in child labour. The ILO reports approximately 100 million girls worldwide are involved in some of the worst forms of child labour today. In addition, the report says this is especially evident in families that place higher importance on educating the boys of the family, which can be attributed to the traditional values embedded in India (ILO, 2003). As the global crisis affects LEDCs, families will start to prioritize what children go to work and to school. In addition, the ILO states that the financial crisis would decrease the national education budget and thus, affect the importance of education to already financially disadvantaged families.

Child labour can have various devastating effects on the health of child labourers. A study carried out by Occupational Medicine (2006) studied different groups of child labourers in various LEDCs. Yet, only conclusive evidence was found amongst child labourers in India. The goal of the study was to determine whether child labour had any effect on the final height of child labourers. While child labour is known to have other negative health effects such as exposure to harsh chemicals, unsanitary conditions, and the potential for serious injuries; whether growth is affected by child labour is still considered controversial. Occupational Medicine focuses on the idea that child labour can directly or indirectly affect the health of children. For example, “It has been assumed that the chronic physical strain of work on growing bones and joints could lead to stunting, spinal injury and lifelong deformations, (2006, 1). However, growth could be indirectly affected by the strain on already weak bones and joints due to malnourishment. Malnourishment in child labourers is caused by long hours working and unsanitary conditions, essentially child labourers do not get all of the required nutrients for healthy development while working in factories. The study concluded that among the children studied in India, there was evidence that child labour did affect the final height of the child labourers. This is an example of negative long term health effects for child labourers and it is problematic because these children represent the future of India.

Child labour is detrimental to the development of India economically because child labour devalues the work done by adults. Basu and Van support this by suggesting that child labour is competing with adult labour in India and the relationship is unhealthy economically (1999). Basu’s studies show that “when adult wages rise or unemployment falls, the incidence of child labour tends to fall. Hence, if we are seriously concerned about child labour, we will have to improve the economic condition of the adult worker,” (1999, N.P.).

In comparison, Augendra Bhukuth and Jerome Ballet (2006) focus on whether child labour is complementary to adult labour, in particular the brick kiln industry in India. The report states that parents are aiding child labour in the brick kiln industry because children are often found working alongside their parents. Unlike almost all other literature on child labour, this study focuses on how child labour is used to increase the price of labour, because an employer is getting an entire family’s labour. This helps to increase household productivity because the whole family works together to earn a living. While it is importance to decrease the debt owed by families in LECDs, the study fails to acknowledge the psychological damages a child will face due to the intensive labour they experienced during childhood.

Sebastian Braun (2006) examines the relationship between child labour and foreign direct investment (FDI). One would think that FDI would be attracted to countries with child labour due to the increases in profits made as a result of the low wages earned by workers compared to developed countries. However, strong evidence points to less FDI flowing to countries that have child labourers, due to young children making up the labour force. To foreign investors child labour reflects poorly on an economy, because the labour force is in fact young children. Therefore, to improve the chances of receiving FDI and thus improving the economy, countries such as India, should eliminate all forms of child labour and employ adults only. If FDI is deterred based on child labour, then LEDCs employing children are continuing the cycle of poverty and decreasing chances of economic growth because they will not receive foreign investment.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the economic development of less economically developed countries is only negatively impacted by child labour. In regards to school, child labour is preventing access to education. In India young girls attend school less than boys, due to traditional values still prevalent in the country today (Das and Mishra, 2005). Chamarbagwala argues that governmental policies should be implemented that specifically enhance the economic benefits of sending children to school; thus giving families an incentive to send their children to school in India (2008). Badiwala claims there is potential for compulsory education to help eradicate child labour in India; pointing to the Indian state of Kerala as an example (1998).

In regards to the health of child labourers, there is evidence that states that child labour affects the final height of an Indian child, among various other serious short and long term effects (Occupational Medicine, 2006). Sadly, there are few studies that state the health effects of child labour on young girls working in the domestic or unpaid labour force.

Lastly, one of the most detrimental effects child labour has on the economic development of a country is the fact that child labour devalues the work done by adults (Basu and Van, 1999). Basu and Van argue that only when the economic situation is improved, will child labourers cease to exist (1999). Furthermore, an interesting study conducted by Bhukuth and Ballet states that sometimes parents continue the problem of child labour by having their children work alongside them in the brick kiln industry (2006). Moreover, it has been proven that child labour can be harmful economically because it decreases the country’s chance at attracting foreign direct investment (Braun, 2006). As a result, child labour is damaging to the economic development of a less economically developed country because it presents a barrier to the education of children, it risks the health of child labourers short and long term and continues the cycle of poverty by devaluing the work done by adults.



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