This was a report written for Sociology 202 (Global Issues). The goal was to explain a social issue in a specific country.
As a developing country, and with a population of over 1 billion, there is bound to be a multitude of social and economic problems that India must face everyday. From taking a broad view of the country and its economy, one would think that India is doing quite well. They are the world’s largest center for diamond cutting and polishing, the largest producer of tea in the word, and is also the world’s second largest producer of fruit and vegetables. But with taking a deeper look into their economy there is one major problem that has disgraced the entire subcontinent: India has the world’s largest number of child laborers. This problem is not only important to protect the children of India, but to understand the many other problems of the country that have resulted in this child labor.
Extent of the Problem
It is a hard challenge for India to provide nutrition, health care, and education to its children when there is such a vast amount of them. There are more children under the age of fourteen in India than the entire population of the United States. According to the Indian Embassy:
“Children under fourteen constitute around 3.6% of the total labor force in India. Of these children, nine out of every ten work in their own rural family settings. Nearly 85% are engaged in traditional agricultural activities. Less than 9% work in manufacturing, services and repairs. Only about 0.8% works in factories”.
While the Government of India reports about 20 million children laborers, other non-governmental organizations estimate the number to be closer to 50 million. Most prevalent in the northern part of India, the use of child labor has become an accepted practice, and is viewed by the local population as necessary to overcome the extreme poverty in the region. The situation of the children at the factories is desperate. Most work around 12 hours a day, with only small breaks for meals. The children that are working in factories work for very small wages, which is spent to feed themselves. Because of fhe fact that India is still a developing country, the working conditions of these factories are very poor. Children have a very small workplace, which consists of them sitting on the floor in unsanitary conditions.
Causes of the Problem
Poverty is one of the most widespread reasons for the child labor system in India. Indian children are often forced to work out of necessity. The children that are most employed, come from poor families and generally from rural communities. Family poverty therefore forces children into the workplace. Many of the parents would rather have their children working and making enough money to eat to be able to stay alive, than be malnourished and risk the chance of death. Many of the children wish to further their education, yet must work for survival. As Pomabhai, a twelve-year old child laborer, stated, “I want to continue my education, but first, we have to eat” (The Children’s Science Monitor).
Part of the child labor problem rests upon the burdens caused by the large family, which in itself is an underlying cause of poverty. A column from the Washington Post stated, “In 1996 the single most important factor in reducing child labor is economic growth”. Although poverty a main component of the child labor problem, it is not, however, the only cause.
A second factor contributing to the labor situation is family debt. Often family debts will be passed on to the next generation forcing young children into labor to work off the debt. As the CRY (Child Relief and You) organization states, “a study in Sivakasi match factories found that even the child in the womb is pledged to the factory, and consumption and maternity loans are obtained on the undertaking that the child born, girl or boy, would work for the factory.'” Bonded children have no way of ending the cycle of debt created by their parents; their labor seems only to incur more debt as their master controls their financial future. This cycle continues by children being bonded to their masters to repay multi-generation old debts. The young also work involuntarily to pay off debts incurred when adults borrow money to pay for life-cycle events like weddings. Although, in 1976, the Indian national government attempted to end the bonded labor system through the passage of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, bonded labor continues as the act is greatly ignored.
The general Indian attitude toward child labor presents a third factor of this social problem and why it is still happening. Found in this culture, there is a view of the social order and the hierarchical caste system, this attitude consists of feelings of indifference and helplessness towards child labor. For example, an eight-year old boy was trying to escape work, but was caught by his employer. It turns out that he was beaten and scorched to death. His parents claimed they had to send him to work or else their family would have starved; the employer said that he was doing the family a favor by giving their child a job, and the government stated that these things happen…it’s not a major problem in this country; it is a way of life. The bystanders of this incident said that they felt there was nothing they could really do about the situation; that was the “harsh reality” of the life they live. Maybe it s wrong in principle, but it s probably inevitable where there is extreme poverty. If things like this are going to be stopped, the attitudes of the entire society towards child labor must change.
A fourth problem, is the irrelevant and often inaccessible education system in India, which has led to an increase in child labor. In 1996, Carol Bellamy, director if the United Nations Children s Fund, released the annual State of the World s Children report citing education as the single most important step in ending child labor. Bellamy s report went further saying “that with innovative programs- which, for example, may pay families a small stipend to make up for the lost wages of children- developing nations can burnish their future prospects while rescuing today s children”. That should be a focus of foreign aid as well. Provisions were made in the Indian Constitution to allow for the education of India s youth. Although these provisions were made, many children still find themselves illiterate, uneducated, and driven to work. As CRY states, most often the lack of shools and facilities leaves wcork as the only option for children.
Possible Solutions for the Problem
Recognition of this issue has occurred, and there have been certain laws that have been passed hoping to correct aspects of the problem. The Child Labor (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986 of India prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 in factories, mines and in other forms of hazardous employment, and regulates the working conditions of children in other employment. India announced a National Policy of Child Labor as early as 1987, and was probably the first among countries to the developing have such a progressive policy. Through a notification dated May 26, 1993, the working conditions of children have been regulated in all employment not prohibited under the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act. The Act of 1986, aims to prohibit the entry of children into hazardous occupations and to regulate the services of children in non-hazardous occupations. The Act in particular:
-“Bans the employment of children, i.e. those who have not completed their 14th year, specified occupations and processes;
-Lays down a procedure to make additions to the schedule of banned occupations or processes;
-Regulates the working conditions of children in occupations where they are not prohibited from working;
-Lays down penalties for employment of children in violation of the provisions of this Act, and other Acts which forbid the employment of children; brings uniformity in the definition of the “Child” in related laws” (Indian Embassy).
Even though today India still has the highest number of child laborers, we should now have a better understanding of why that is. The issue at hand here did not root itself; it has stemmed from many other social and economic problems in its society. The problems of India’s poverty level and family debt, its society’s attitude towards child labor, and the lack of substantial education have all led to the child labor issue. In hopes of correctly understanding these issues we must understand them from an Indian’s perspective. We as American’s do not have the right to be ethnocentric, and judge whether their attitude toward an aspect of their culture is correct or not. India is taking the right steps to correct this issue by passing Acts that they feel will best work for their society. Hopefully one day the problem will no longer exist, and children will not be harmfully treated, but for the time being we must be patient with the small steps that are being taken.