Causes of Child Labour in India and Governmental Policy Dealing with it
How Necessary is Child Labour to Families in India?
Child labour is a source of income for poor families. A study conducted by the ILO Bureau of Statistics found that “Children’s work was considered essential to maintaining the economic level of households, either in the form of work for wages, of help in household enterprises or of household chores in order to free adult household members for economic activity elsewhere” (Mehra-Kerpelman 1996, 8). In some cases, the study found that a child’s income accounted for between 34 and 37 percent of the total household income. This study concludes that a child labourer’s income is important to the livelihood of a poor family. There is a questionable aspect of this study. It was conducted in the form of a survey, and the responses were given by the parents of the child labourers. Parents would be biased into being compelled to support their decision to send their children to work, by saying that it is essential. They are probably right: for most poor families in India, alternative sources of income are close to non-existent. There are no social welfare systems such as those in the West, nor is there easy access to loans, which will be discussed.
What Role does Poverty Play?
The percentage of the population of India living in poverty is high. In 1990, 37% of the urban population and 39% of the rural population was living in poverty (International Labour Organization 1995, 107). Poverty has an obvious relationship with child labour, and studies have “revealed a positive correlation – in some instances a strong one – between child labour and such factors as poverty” (Mehra-Kerpelman 1996, 8). Families need money to survive, and children are a source of additional income. Poverty itself has underlying determinants, one such determinant being caste. When analyzing the caste composition of child labourers Nangia (1987) observes that, “if these figures are compared with the caste structure of the country, it would be realised that a comparatively higher proportion of scheduled caste children work at a younger age for their own and their families’ economic support” (p. 116). Scheduled caste (lower caste) children tend to be pushed into child labour because of their family’s poverty. Nangia (1987) goes on to state that in his study 63.74% of child labourers said
that poverty was the reason they worked (p. 174).
The combination of poverty and the lack of a social security network form the basis of the even harsher type of child labour — bonded child labour. For the poor, there are few sources of bank loans, governmental loans or other credit sources, and even if there are sources available, few Indians living in poverty qualify. Here enters the local moneylender; for an average of two thousand rupees, parents exchange their child’s labour to local moneylenders (Human Rights Watch 1996, 17). Since the earnings of bonded child labourers are less than the interest on the loans, these bonded children are forced to work, while interest on their loans accumulates. A bonded child can only be released after his/her parents makes a lump sum payment, which is extremely difficult for the poor (Human Rights Watch 1996, 17). Even if bonded child labourers are released, “the same conditions of poverty that caused the initial debt can cause people to slip back into bondage” (International Labour Organization 1993, 12).