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CHILD LABOUR AND EDUCATION
INTRODUCTION: From ancient times, children were required to do sonic work either at home or in the field along with their parents. The problem of child labour was identified as a major problem in the 19th century when the first factory was started in the mid 19th century and legislative measures were first adopted as early as 1881. It is an unfortunate manifestation of economic compulsions as well as socio-cultural perceptions.
DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT: With India way behind much of the Third World in its effort to abolish child labour, the official figures reveal little letup in the situation. Myron Weiner’s study, “The Child and State in India” attempts to provide an explanation for why India’s policies toward children and employees are different from others. More importantly, this writes up focuses on why legislative action that the Indian Constitution calls for on child labour and education has not been implemented.
CONCLUSION: Child labour cannot be totally eradicated unless it is supplemented by comprehensive socio-economic programmes and educational uplift of the underprivileged sections of the society and by a total change in the attitude of the society towards child labour. In short, the general improvement in socio-economic conditions of people will result in the gradual elimination of child labour.
The governments of all developed countries and many developing countries have removed children from the labour force and required that they attend school. They believe that employers should not be permitted to employ child labour and that parents, no matter how poor, should not be allowed to keep their children out of school. Modern states regard education as a legal duty, nor merely a right; parents are required to send their children to school, children are required to attend school, and the state is obligated to enforce compulsory education. Compulsory primary education is that policy instrument by which the state effectively removes children from the labour force. The state thus stands as the ultimate guardian of children, protecting them against both parents and would be employers.
This is not the view held in India. Primary education in India is not compulsory, nor is child labour illegal. The result is that less than half of India’s children between ages six and fourteen, 82.2 million are not in school. They stay at home to care for cattle, tend younger children, collect firewood, and work in the fields. They find employment in cottage industries, tea-stalls, restaurants, or as household workers in middle-class homes. They become prostitutes or live as street children, begging or picking rags and bottles from trash for resale. Many are bonded labourers tending cattle and working as agricultural labourers for local landowners. “The government,” a senior education official said, “should not force poor parents to send their children to school when it cannot provide employment for all adults. Children are an economic asset to the poor. The income they bring in and the work they do may be small, but parents close to subsistence need their help.”
Most children who start school dropout. Of those who enter first grade, only four out of ten complete four years of school. Depending upon how one defines “work”, (employment for wages, or full-time work whether or not for wages), child labourers in India number from 13.6 million’ to 44 million, or more.
The Indian law prohibits the employment of children in factories, but not in cottage industries, family households, restaurants, or in agriculture.
Indeed, government officials do not regard the employment of children in cottage industries as child labour, though working conditions in these shops are often inferior to those of the large factories.
India is a significant exception to the global trend toward the removal of children from the labour force and the establishment of compulsory, universal primary school education. Poverty has not prevented governments of other developing countries from expanding mass education or making primary education compulsory. Many countries, of Africa with income levels lower than India have expanded mass education with impressive increases in literacy. China which had an illiteracy rate comparable to that of India 40 years ago, now has half the illiteracy rate of India. South Korea and Taiwan, both poor countries with high. Illiteracy rates a generation ago, moved toward universal and compulsory education while their per capita incomes were close to that of India. Adult literacy rates in both countries are now over 90 per cent. In contrast, India’s adult literacy rate in 1981 was 40.8 per cent. Between 1961 and 1981 the total number of adult illiterates in India increased by 5 million to 437 million. India is the largest single producer of the world’s illiterates.
The historical evidence de-linking mass education from the level of national and per capita income is also persuasive. In many countries the diffusion of mass literacy preceded the Industrial Revolution, and governments often introduce compulsory education when levels of poverty were high; German municipalities in 1524; Massachusetts in 1647; Scotland, Austria, and Sweden in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; Japan in 1872; newly-independent South Korea and Taiwan shortly after the World War.
This study attempts to provide an explanation for why India’s policies toward children in education and employment are different from those of so many other countries. Why is the Indian state unable, or unwilling, to deal with the high and increasing illiteracy, low school enrollments, high drop out rates, and rampant child labour? Why did government commissions reviewing child labour and education policies as recently as 1985-1986 does not call for compulsory education or for legislation to abolish child labour? How are we to understand these policies in a country whose governing elites profess to be socialist and many of those bureaucrats, politicians and intellectuals are advocates of an intrusive state? Why has the state not taken legislative action when the Indian Constitution calls for a ban on child labour and for compulsory primary-school education, positions frequently reiterated in government reports as a long-term objective? Between official rhetoric and policy, there is a vast gap, and it is puzzling why the Indian government does not do, what it says, it wants to do?
The central proposition of this study is that India’s low per capita income and economic situation is less relevant as an explanation than the belief systems of the state bureaucracy—a set of beliefs that are widely shared by educators, social activists, trade unionists, academic researchers, and, more broadly, by members of the Indian middle-class. These beliefs are held by that outside as well as those within government, by observant Hindus and by those who regard themselves as secular, and by leftists as well as by centrists and rightists.
At the core of these beliefs is the Indian view of the social order, notions concerning the respective roles of upper and lower social strata, the role of education as a means of maintaining differentiations among the social classes, and concerns that “excessive” and “inappropriate” education for the poor would disrupt existing social arrangements.
Indians reject compulsory education, arguing that primary schools do not properly train the children of the poor to work, that the children of the poor should work rather than attend schools that prepare them for “service” or white-collar occupations, that the education of the poor would lead to increase unemployment and social and political disorder, that the children of the lower classes should learn to work with their hands rather than with their heads (skills more readily acquired by early entry into the labour force than by attending schools) that schools dropouts and child labour are a consequence, not a cause, of poverty, and that parents, not the state, should be the ultimate guardians of children. Rhetoric notwithstanding, India’s policy-makers have not regarded mass education as essential to India’s modernisation. They have instead put resources into elite government schools, state-aided private schools, and higher education in an effort to create an educated class that is equal to educated classes in the west and that is capable of creating and managing a modern ‘enclave economy.’
The -Indian position rests on deeply-held beliefs that there is a division between people who work with their minds and rule and people who work with their hands and are ruled and that education should reinforce rather than break down this division. These beliefs are closely tied to religious notions and to the premises that underlie India’s hierarchical caste system. It is not merely that India’s social organisation is inegalitarian and that caste implies a system of social ranking, neither of which is unique to India. What is distinctive is a particular kind of social mobility, the mobility of groups rather than individuals. While there is considerable group mobility in India, powerful forces of both institutions and beliefs resist changes in groups status. Even those who profess to be secular and who reject the caste system, are imbued with values of status that are deeply embedded in Indian culture. One does not readily escape from the core values of one’s society. In much of the world, religious institution and beliefs (including secular beliefs derived from religion) played a role in the diffusion of mass education aimed at social equality, in India education has been largely an instrument for differentiation by separating children according to social class.
For this reason, those who control the education system are remarkably indifferent to the low enrolment and high dropout rate among the lowest social classes. The result is one of the highest rates of child labour in the world, one of the lowest rates in school attendance, and a literacy rate that has fallen behind most of the Third World.
These views are not readily apparent in official statements of government policy or in the speeches of public officials, but through close scrutiny of official documents and through extensive interviews with officials we can discover these beliefs.
Policies and programmes that otherwise appear irrational, hypocritical, or inefficient can be rendered comprehensible. To understand these policies we must first identify the beliefs and premises upon which they are based.
Since Independence, the Government of India, every commission appointed by the government, the ruling Congress Party, all opposition parties, and all state governments have advocated ending child labour and establishing compulsory, universal primary education for all children tip to the age of 14. This commitment dates to the turn of the century when Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the president of the Indian National Congress unsuccessfully urged the British to establish free and compulsory elementary education. In the 1930s provincial governments under the control of the Indian National Congress passed legislation authorising local bodies to introduce compulsory education.
The Indian Constitution of 1950 declared 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 14 years.” What are called compulsory Primary Education Acts were passed by most of the state governments, while the number of primary schools leapt from 210,000 in 1950 to 529,000 by 1986.
Legislation restricting the employment of children in mines and factories was introduced by the British early in the century. In the 1950s Parliament passed several acts prohibiting the employment of children in plantations, mines, merchant shipping, and in the bidi (indigenous cigarettes) and cigar industries. The use of apprentices below the age of 14 was prohibited. As with so-called compulsory education legislation, these measures had widespread support.
Both goals were confirmed in 1979, the International Year of the Child when the Indian government appointed a commission to inquire into the state of India’s children and to make recommendations for their improved well-being.
Though 56 years have passed since the Indian Constitution went into effect, most of the servers would agree with the late J P Naik, India’s foremost scholar of education, that “the goal of universal primary education remains as elusive as ever before”. According to the Government of India, in 1979 there were 42 million children between the ages of six and 14—or 32 per cent of the age group, who were not in school, but according to an Indian census data and academic studies of dropouts, non-attendance is near twice as large. In 1981 the Indian census asked for the first time whether a person was attending school or college. The result gives us a measure of school attendance that is independent of the enrollment figures provided by India’s educational system. The 1981 census reported that 82.2 million of India’s 158.8 million children aged six to 14 did not attend school. Only 52.2 million of India’s 123.7 million rural children ages six to 14 were in school (34.4 million boys, 17.8 million girls). In urban India, 24.4 million of 35.1 million attended school (13.5 million boys, 10.9 million girls). The highest attendance is among urban males in the ten to 14 age group (77 per cent) and the lowest is among rural females in the six-to-nine age group (31.3 per cent). (These figures, it should be noted, are substantially at variance with official ministry figures on school enrollments).
The school attendance figures account for India’s low literacy rate. In 1981 only 41.4 per cent of India’s population above the age of five was literate (53.5 per cent male. 28.5 per cent female) with the highest literacy rates among urban males (74 per cent) and the lowest among rural females (20.7 per cent). In 1981, 56.6 per cent of the 15 to 19 age group, 52 per cent of the 20 to 24 age group and 45.1 per cent of the 25 to 35 age group were literate.
One measure of the limited effectiveness of India’s primary school education system and its inability to expand enrollments fast enough to keep pace with population growth is the increase in the number of illiterates: 333 million in 1961, 386 million in 1971 to 36.2 per cent in 1981. The low school attendance figures are reflected in the high literacy rate among young people.
Official figures on child labour are also indicative of the government’s failure to deal with the problem. The government reports that in 1983, 17.4 million Indian children below the age of 15 were in the labour force, constituting 6.8 per cent of the rural labour force and 2.4 per cent of the urban labour force. While the vast proportion of India’s working children are employed in agriculture, many are engaged in industrial employment – in carpet-making 9 per cent of the labour force is children; in brassware, 25 per cent, in bidi, glass, and bangles, 33 per cent; and in matches, 42 per cent. Of those employed on the plantation, 8 per cent are children. Other studies put the number of child workers higher by including children who do not receive wages but work hill-time, the Operations Research Group, a respected research organisation in Baroda, estimates that 44 million children in the five to 15 age group are in the labour force.
Recently the Government of India has moved away from its earlier objective of establishing compulsory elementary education and removing all children from the labour force. The Labour Ministry has indicated that “despite the provisions of restrictive labour laws, the practice (of child labour) continues unabated because the exploitation of children is of financial advantage to employers and economic compulsion to parents.” The government, therefore, accepts child labour as a “harsh reality” and proposes that measures be taken to improve the working conditions of children rather than to remove them from the workforce. Under the new legislation, the government proposes to give attention to eliminating the employment of children in hazardous occupations, improving conditions of work, regulating the hours of work and wages paid, and providing informal supplementary education programmes for working children. These new policies, long-advocated by a number of government officials, represent a significant modification of the policies recommended by the Committee on Child Labour that primary attention is given to the ‘enforcement of child-labour laws.
A similar position was taken by India’s ministry, which, concluded that in, lieu of compulsion, alternative voluntary, informal education should be provided to working children. Substantial funding was provided for pan time education in the sixth and seventh Five Year Plans. The National Council of Educational
Research and Training (NCERT), the paramount institution in its field, funded by the Ministry of Education, recommended the creation of more al!-.girl schools, the greater use of women teachers, and the initiation of a campaign by social workers to persuade parents to keep their daughters in school. Educators call for free textbooks, free a uniform for poor children has been launched. The emphasis is thus on the expansion of educational facilities, the use of persuasion, and the establishment of informal part-time programmes, rather than on compulsory education. The key notion in child labour policy in India became “amelioration,” not abolition; and in education; “incentives,” not compulsion.
Government officials assert that they have not given up the long-term goals of ending child labour and implementing compulsory primary education. The new policies, they argue, simply reflect their judgement that existing legislation cannot be implemented this time because of prevailing social and economic conditions. The legislation is weak, because of the impediments that lie within society; chronic poverty forces poor parents to put their children into the labour force; parents do not believe that they or their children would benefit economically if their children were in school, and children acquire skills through employment, not through formal education. They also point to opposition by employers to the enforcement of child labour legislation; employers prefer children to adults because they are more pliable, work for lower wages, are not unionized, have supple fingers that enable them to work in many crafts more effectively than adults and the low wages paid to children available some industries to survive that might otherwise not be able to compete either in domestic or international markets.
It follows from these arguments that the abolition of child labour and the establishment of compulsory education must await a significant improvement in the well-being of the poor.
These societal-centred explanations do not stand up against historical and comparative evidence. As we have already briefly suggested, the notion that mass education depends upon the level of per capita income is contradicted by historical and contemporary comparative evidence. In Sweden, Scotland, colonial New England and Prussia high levels of literacy were achieved in the 18th century when incomes were low and prior to the development of modern, industrial urban societies.
Among contemporary developing countries there is also no clear relationship between literacy and per capita income. India has an adult (over age 15) literacy rate 410.8Cr cent; while in China it is 72.6 per cent; Burma, 78.5 per cent; Indonesia, 74.1 per cent; ‘Tanzania, 85 per cent; Sri Lanka, 86. I per cent; and the Philippine, 88.7 per cent. And while literacy for India as a whole is low, the state Of Kerala, with a per capita income no different than that of the rest of the country, has a literacy rate (of those over life) of 85 per cent.
A number of Asian countries experienced spectacular primary-school attendance rates prior to their rapid economic growth. In the short space of 30 years, between 1873 and 1903, the Japanese Government increased elementary-school attendance from 28 per cent to 94 per cent. By 1913,98 per cent of the age group was attending school. South Korea, with only a third of its children in primary schools in 1941, universalised primary education by the early 1970s.
Its ‘literacy/rate increased from 55 per cent in 1944 to 90 per cent. In China, primary school education expanded rapidly after 1949. In 1979, China enrolled close to 147 million children in 920,000 formal schools, an enrollment ratio of 93 per cent, compared with 25 per cent in 1949. The literacy rate among the population aged 15 and above is 72.6 per cent, an increase of 52 percentage points since 1949.
Nor do resources constraints explain the differences in educational performance between India and other countries. India spends 3.6 per cent of its GNP on education —less than Kenya (6.7 per cent), Tanzania (4.3 per cent), or Malaysia (7.8 per cent), but more than Burma (1.6 per cent), China (2.7 per cent), Sri Lanka (3.5 per cent). Compared to these other countries, moreover, a larger proportion of India’s education budget is spent on higher education. While the percentage of the college-age group in higher education was only 1 per cent in China, 4 per cent in Sri Lanka, 1 per cent in Burma, and 4 per cent in Indonesia it was 9 per cent in India, the highest among the low-income countries in the Third World.
Thus there is historical comparative evidence to suggest that the major obstacles to the achievement of universal primary education and the abolition of child labour are not the level of industrialisation, per capita income and the socio-economic conditions of families, the level of overall government expenditures in education, nor the demographic consequences of a rapid expansion in the number of school-age children, for widely-suggested explanations. India has made less of an effort to move children out of the labour force and out of their homes into the school system than many other Countries not for economic or demographic reasons but because of the attitudes of government officials, politicians, trade union leaders, workers in voluntary agencies, religious fixtures, intellectuals, and the influential middle-class toward child labour and compulsory primary-school education.
Of particular importance, en the attitudes of officialdom itself, especially officials of the state and central education and labour departments and ministries. The desires of low-income parents to send their children to work or to employ them at home, and of employers who seek low wage, pliable, non-unionised labour, is of secondary importance because elsewhere in the world a large proportion of parents and employers have also supported child labour and opposed compulsory education. It is the absence of strong support for governmental intervention from within the state apparatus itself and the absence of a political coalition outside the state apparatus pressing for government and statements by politicians, officials, educators, and social activists notwithstanding, there is very little political support in India for compulsory education or for the enforcement of laws banning the employment of children.