The Dilemma of Child Labor


Journal Archives
Point of View

Sign the

Subscribe to CM Magazine

Back to Child Labor in Towns and Cities

Go to the Changemakers Library for selected Internet resources on working children

  Children work for many reasons, including the pressure of poverty, adult unemployment, adult underemployment, and irrelevant education systems which fail to guarantee jobs or prepare children for self employment. Employers may hire children since they can pay them less. Children also are easier to discipline, more willing to work and often cannot form unions in self defense.

Currently, Asia accounts for the largest child labor population in the world. In India, the number of child laborers continues to escalate. It is difficult to determine their number since government statistics do not include unorganized sectors which employ the maximum number. The CWC estimates the number of child laborers at 111 million to 115 million.

The popular image of child labor is horror stories of exploitation the helpless victim image. CWC's Nandana Reddy questions this generalization that all of the work done by children is bad and that all child labor is "evil." According to Reddy, a wide spectrum exists from intolerable child "labor" to "work" that can be beneficial to children. "We should recognize that there are no black and white situations, but several gray areas," she said.

Some believe children's work is a right that can bring positive results. For others, and in the Indian context, child work is a necessity. Organizations like Bhima Sangha strive to eliminate the compulsion for child labor. Yet, while it must exist, they want labor to be regulated in the best interests of working children, and they children to receive respect for their contributions. Almost 20 per cent of India's GNP is produced by child laborers, according to the CWC.

Child "labor" generally is defined as work that is disabling or that impedes a child's growth and development. Such work deprives children of family protection, makes them vulnerable to health hazards and can affect their physical, mental and psychological well being. Child "work" on the other hand is enabling and contributes to a child's growth and development.

Working children organizations believe that if they are recognized as workers and given the rights of workers, adults will begin to fulfill at least some of the articles in the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The majority of children work in situations that have the potential to provide positive experiences, yet more often, they are victims of exploitation. By removing the exploitation, their situations might become palpable. For them, the choice is not between work or no work but between working in harmful or less harmful situations. Working can be positive when it offers a means to enter the formal sector of employment through the back door an opportunity that otherwise might be closed to children, due to caste, economics, gender, or irrelevant educational systems.

One primary cause that children cite for working is that conventional schools take no account of the realities of their working lives. The formal sector trains children only for formal "white collar" jobs. The system bypasses those destined for the informal sector, depriving them of the knowledge, information and even the basic literacy and numeracy skills that any formal system should provide.

Realizing that most working children were migrants from villages, CWC has established a presence in rural areas throughout Karnataka with the aim of gaining insight into children's situations and identifying a preventative course of action their philosophy being that one could eliminate the causes of migration and consequently reduce child labor by improving by improving life in rural areas.

Together, Bihma Sangha and CWC have established village "task forces" which enable children to play a part in local policy making an planning that affects them. Task forces are composed of elected members of the village panchayat (village council) as well as local government officials, elected delegates of organized children and members of their families, employers add CWC representatives (paragraph straight from manish'a story).

Throughout the state, children have scored significant victories in their villages. One children's council demanded a foot bridge to enable them to get to school. Concerned that fuel wood sources were diminishing, another group decided to plant their own forest. Other groups yet have convinced local governments to redistribute water supply points to make it easier for children to fetch water for their families.

  Child Labor in Towns and Cities

Copyright Changemakers 2002