Guest Post by: Dr Neeraja Sharma Home
Problem of Child-Labour is not new to anybody. ILO under convention 138 makes a distinction between child labour and child work. ‘Child work’ is that participation of children in the economy which does not affect their physical and mental development adversely. This kind of work under ILO guidelines is permitted after reaching 12 years of age.
However ‘Child labour’ is that situation where children work in contravention to above standards. All children below 12 years working in any economic activity are child labourers, those between 12 years to 14 years and are working in hazardous industries are child labourers and all children who work in worst forms of child labour. Worst forms here means enslanement, forcible recruitment, prostitution, trafficking of children, exposure to hazardous work and illegal activities like drug pedding.
There are about 246 million child labourers in the world. Nearly three fourth of these children (171 million) indulge in hazardous works like mines, chemical and pesticides or dangerous machinery.
Though 70% of child workers are employed in agriculture, yet a substantial number of children are employed in illegal and unethical activities. Statistics available at UNICEF website says :
1.2 million children are trafficked.
5.7 million children work as bonded labourers.
1.8 million children are forced into prostitution and pornography
0.3 million in armed conflict
0.6 million in other illicit activities
Asia and the pacific have the highest number of child labourers in the 5-14 age group. 127.3 million child-workers in all. Sub-Saharan Africa has 48 million child workers where 1 in 3 children below 15 years works.
India has nearly 400 million children in 1-18 age group. The official figure of child labourers in India is 13 million. But a 1996 report (quoting ILO and UNICEF as sources) puts the number in India at between 14-100 million child labourers.
How can education improve the lot of exploited child – labourers? The answer is in more than one way. Our earlier national and social leaders were very well aware of the reformative, empowering and redistributive effects of Education. Gopal Krishna Gokhale, was a strong advocate for the promotion of basic education and as soon as the Indian Council Act of 1909 made it possible to propose legislative reforms he formulated a Pioneering Elementary Education Bill (later rejected by British Administration) which would have enabled local authorities to introduce compulsory education.
Education as a paramount concerns to Raja Ram Mohan Roy, R.N. Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jai Prakash Narain. Dr. Ambedkar used education as a key element in his strategy to liberate opperessed castes.
No wonder that education can be used to liberate and rehabilitate child workers too.
However modern social and political leaders have given only a lip-service to education. State has often used the myth that Indian parents have little interest in education as a convenient excuse to hid its failures in primary education. While in reality, there have been little efforts towards facilitating parents and children’s involvement in schooling system whereever these efforts have been like in Madhya Pradesh’s “education guarantee scheme” they have met with overwhelming response. A PROBE TEAM survey found that in India’s most educationally backward areas, the proportion of parents who consider it important for a child to be educated was high as 98% for boys and 89% for girls. This is all in consisting with the constitutional goal of universal elementary education.
However, this does not adsolves parents of their lack of motivation even irresponsibility in some cases, even the parents who say that education is important may ot always translate that interst into practical efforts for sending their children to school on a regular basis. Parental comittment to education is coloured by many prejudices and taboos and social cultural norms as well as the employment opportunities that they perceive to exists for their ward after education, urban parents belonging to non-poor groups are enthusiastic about their children’s education because they see a direct link between their education and employability.
If rural poor parents can be convinced of the increased employability of their children after education they would definitely try sending their children to school. For this vocational education should be included in basic education.
Now we come to the question are child-labour and school exclusion mutually congruent?
Well, it seems to be so, at least in the official version of things. They say that because poor families are economically dependent on child labour that is why there are so many children not going to school but joining labour force.
However some vacant studies of time utilisation of Indian children reveal that a large majority of out of school children especially in 5-10 age group do very little work. D.P. Chaudhary has coined the term ‘nowhere-children’ to describe the condition of these children i.e. the children who are neither going to school nor doing enough work to be counted as members of labour-force.
While officials say that children do not go to school and take up work, some studies have suggested a different reality. Child-labour is often the result and not the cause of non-attendance in school. Many children say that they work as they have nothing else to do and the schools are not attractive enough while teachers are unsympathetic and absence.
Why children and parents do not find education attractive enough is explained by ‘discouragement effect’. Schools often lack even in basic amenities. Most primary government schools are overcrowded, have a crumbling infrastructure absence of teaching aids, dull teaching methods. There is no special arrangement for slow learners and first generation learners. Basic facilities like drinking water, play ground are missing. To top it all there is abysmally low level of pupil achievement. Survey shows that many students of these schools are not able to read and write even after several years of schooling. These stifling conditions at schools gradually alienate children and their parents from schools and when not in school they are simply available to most pernicious forms of child-labour.
Then there is financial discouragement, sending a child to school demands a lot of effort. School is expensive even if no fee is charged. Costs of text books, uniforms, states, pencils and other items are far from negligible. Many people find them unaffordable and gradually withdraw their children from schooling system.
There are specific problems faced by first generation learners, their parents are incapable of motivating them for studies or assisting them in their homework hence they tend to drop out of studies.
Then there is social discouragement, or the effect of caste and gender prejudices on education. Children of socially backward castes are discouraged from education because they are expected to take up manual jobs. Girls are often discriminated against because they are expected to do household work.
The cumulative effects of different types of social disadvantages are very disturbing for example; a poor girl belonging to a scheduled caste family residing in a backward area has only one chance in five of ever entering the school and no chance of attaining grade 5.
Having discussed external discouragement effect now we will discuss how educational policy in India always set unrealistic goals and why it could never achieve those goals.
Article 45 of Constitution urges the state to provide free and compulsory education up to the age of 14 years by 1960, yet in those days greater emphasis was given to higher education at the cost of primary education.
In 1986 National Policy on Education again declared that by 1995 all children will be provided free and compulsory education up to 14 years of age without giving any details of what practical steps would be taken to make this resolve a reality.
National policy on Education 1992 repeated the old credo albeit with a new time frame “before we enter 21st century”.
Through all this period though physical accessibility of primary schools get reduced (Sixth all India Educational Survey indicates that in 1993 about 947 of the rural population lived within one kilometer of primary schools) yet basic infrastructure facilities are far from being adequate. According to 1999-2000 data from District Information System of Education initiated under District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) :
1)58% of India’s Primary Schools have at most two teachers.
2)26% have a pupil teacher ratio of above 60.
3)61% have no female teacher
4)35% have a pupil classroom ratio of above 60%.
Hence the quality of education imparted in these schools can be easily imagined.
Apart from quality lack of equity is also a serious problem. Back in 1960′s Kothari Commission set the goal of ‘Same school for all’, but we are as far from that goal to day as we were them. There is a huge gap between quality and kind of education being imparted at private schools and that ofgovt. schools. This divide persists even within the frame work of government schools. Furthermore, children of different social and religions back ground have different opportunities of education. Often children belonging to disadvantaged sections get disillusioned and leave education and sooner or later join labour force.
To prevent them from joining labour force, we will have to provide them with education and to enhance their employability education should include vocational training.
Keeping this in mind on September 3, 1999 UNICEF launched a pilot project in 29 nations aimed to provide schooling to millions of children forced to work.
Liting lack of educational facilities as primary cause of child labour UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy Said “All two many children are not in school and 1 in 5 works in hazardous situation, sentenced to lives of poverty with an increased threat of disease and early death.”
UNICEF initiative Education as a Preventive Strategy against Child Labour hoped to alter the privailing bleak situation. Emphasising the importance of Education Ms. Bellamy said, “Education can offer an open future, a chance for improved health and safety and above all economic opportunity.”
Vocational training was also a part of this initiative. In all the 29 nations UNICEF has been able to liberate child labourers and increase their employability through vocational training.
That education eliminates child-albour also proved by Kerala, where in 1998-99 approx. 97% of children in 6-14 age group were enrolled in schools. Kerala has a low incidence of child-labour even though its neighbouring states which have lesser access to primary education have greater incidence of child labour.
Other example is Himachal Pradesh. Once child-labour was an essential part of Himachal Pradesh’s economy because many household depended on natural resources and girls had to take care of home because adult women would work outside home.
But now Himachal is going through a virtual schooling revolution. In 1998-99, school attendance in 6-14 age group was 97% for boys and 99% for girls. Needless to say that incidence of child labour has been drastically reduced.
Women’s agency has always played a crucial role in emancipation of children progressiveness of Kerala women has always been known. Himachal women too enjoy better social and economic position. It is not a coincidence that in states like Himachal, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra where women’s literacy is greater child enrolment rates are also better for both male and female children, while in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where female literacy is low child enrolment is also low.
For example in Bihar proportion of never enrolled rural female children in 10-12 age group in 1992-93 was 63% while the same figure for Himachal Pradesh was 7% and for Kerala it was 1%, same figure for Uttar Pradesh was 50%.
Hence wherever education has spread menace of child-labour has been controlled.
Vocational training must be an integral part of education so that rural poor children can find gainful employment once they grow up.
So far child-labour has been a double edged-sword, on the one hand it pulls a child out of educational system and on the other hand it deprives him of whatever economic opportunities he could have had, had he been better educated. Poor education means poor employability even when the child grows up. Then a vicious circle is created because he has a low-paying job, his children will also been forced to join labour force at a tender age and the process will repeat itself with them too.
Hence if you want to break this vicious circle, first a child should complete 8 years of formal education and leach the age of 14 then taking his interest and resources into account he should be provided comprehensive vocational training which will enable him be gainfully employed once he reaches the age of 15 years.
Many NGO’s have vocational training included in their rehabilitation programme for child-labourers. One such NOG is South Asian Coalition on child servitude (SACCS). This ashram houses around 60-70 children for every three month session. These children belong to various states such as Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. During these three month children under 14 are given formal education so as to bring them at per with other school going children. Those above 14 are imparted vocational training like weaving, welding, tailoring, and electronic motr binding among others. The vocational training is decided on the basis of traditional crafts carried on back home.
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