Child labour Research Paper

In an increasingly integrated world, people feel more intimately connected with communities and processes in distant lands. Today the world seems to have high expectations and aspirations for its children, certainly higher than seeing them break bricks or straining their eyes over dimly lit workbenches (Stalker, 1996:3).
Indeed, international anxiety about needless child labour is mounting. Demonstration marches protesting against child labour began on each of the continents in January 1998 to culminate in Geneva when the International Labour Organisation meets to take up the issue. Meantime, the extent of child labour in a country is being taken as an indicator of how far that country has fallen behind developmentally. After all, child labour dooms many to lives of disease, misery and destitution, thereby reinforcing the cycle of poverty and exploitation.
Child labour has become more visible and controversial in recent years as structural reforms and macro-economic stabilisation policies have stressed exports. The resulting intense global competition in carpets, textiles, apparel, shoe and leather items has promoted the employment of thousands of children who often work under quite inhumane conditions. But children also work in other areas, so that the export-oriented industries may be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Why do poor parents send their children to work? Will employers be able to resist the threat of consumer boycotts and trade sanctions or will they have to reconsider their child labour employment practices? 1High economic stakes are at risk and the lives of hundreds of thousand children are involved.What is child labour? The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) makes a
distinction between child work and child labour. To see a child work is not necessarily bad. Work may be encouraged for a young adult as an apprentice and to develop a sense of responsibility. The difference lies between what is being done for a child’s development and what is sheer exploitation. Work carried out by children ranges from the beneficial to the harmful. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to draw a sharp line of distinction between benevolent child work and destructive child labour.
Bertolaso, in the hearings before the United States Congress Subcommittee on Labor (1994,55) proposed a criteria that could help distinguish child labour from child work: full time work at too early an age; too many hours spent on working; work which exerts undue physical, social or psychological stress; work and life on the streets in bad conditions; inadequate pay; too much responsibility; work which hampers access to education and is detrimental to full social and psychological development; and work that undermines childrens’ dignity and self esteem.
Further, no one has any doubt that children should be excluded from highly dangerous employment While these are generally acceptable criteria, there remains a substantial grey area in which it is more difficult to legislate and for which appropriate policy will depend very much on local circumstances and perceptions (Stalker, 1996,5). Apprenticeship in many traditional skills may have to begin early and apprenticeship has to be distinguished from child labour..The extent of child labour In its 1997 Report on the State of the World’s Children, the UNICEF estimated that of the one billion children in the age group 5-14 years in the less developed countries, 190 million, or about 20%, were working (UNICEF, 1997,25). Three quarters of these working children, or about 143 million, worked six days a week or more and one half worked nine hours a day or more. The latest calculations of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimate that 250 million children in the age group 5-14 years are employed, half of them full time. Over 95% of these children are in the less developed countries. Out of these, 153 million are working in Asia, 80 million in Africa and 17.5 million in Latin America.
Thus Asia has over 60% of the child labourers, with Africa having the highest percentage of its children working, that is, every one in three children is working there. In Latin America, 15-20% of children work. Though these figures are based on improved methodologies and surveys, no survey can accurately portray the actual extent of the children working in the informal sector. Nevertheless, considering the fact that the latest ILO calculations for less developed countries are based on in-depth surveys and interviews in numerous countries, and not solely on official statistics, it can be considered to be a reliable estimate.
This is an improvement from ILO’s earlier estimate of 73 million working children. These large numbers indicate that children constitute a substantial part of the work force of these countries. For example, the million and a half working children under the age of 14 in Egypt constitute seven percent of the country’s work force (Mekay, 1997,38). Several surveys have also made attempts to assess the extent of child labour in Bangladesh. According to ILO, 30% of Bangladesh’s children are economically active, suggesting a figure of 11-12 million working children out of its 38.5 million children.
But according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), there are about 31.7 million children between the ages 5 and 14 in Bangladesh, of whom about 13.7 million receive education . The remaining 18 million do not go to school. A small percentage of these children roam about aimlessly or stay idle at home, but the remaining are engaged in some sort of employment to earn income for their families (BGMEA, 1994). This would indicate a number in the range of 15 million working children. 3The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) labour force survey of 1990 reported 5.7 million working children in the age group 10-14 years. Other estimates suggest about 15 million child workers of the same age group. The BBS report also says that in 199091, the national labour force participation rate for children aged 10-14 was estimated at 46% for boys and 36% for girls. Child labour is much more prevalent in the rural areas where the participation rate for boys is 50% and for girls it is 42%; in the urban areas, the rate for boys is 28% and for girls is 16%. All of these figures were 6 to 8 percentage points higher than reported in the previous labour force survey of 1984. A calculation based on the 1989 survey found that the majority of these children were actually unpaid family helpers – 64% of boys and 85% of girls (Wahid, 1997,5).
The UNICEF Multiple Indicator Survey for Bangladesh finds that of the children between 6-17 years, 21% of boys are working and only 4% of girls. This is a much lower estimate than the labour force survey. The proportion of children working increases with age, but even in the roughly comparable 11-14 age group, the proportion is much lower than that of the labour force survey.
The very low proportion of girls is attributed to the fact that most work on domestic chores, which is usually a hidden form of child labour (Stalker, 1996,9). In contrast, according to village studies, the participation rate of children aged 6-14 year, either inside or outside the house, averaged 34% (Ahmed and Quasem, 1991), but the rate varied considerably from one village to another- 16% in the most developed village to 64% in the least. Thus the national proportion of children working in Bangladesh varies from about 10% to 44%, depending on the definitions and the type of sampling.4What work do children do? These children work in factories, workshops and mines. They work as bonded labourers in agriculture and industry. They are also in the informal sectors of agriculture, industry, prostitution, house-domestics, and then there is a large segment of this informal sector comprising street children who do all kinds of miscellaneous work. Kidnapping, cheating, extortion and even maiming are used to make children work in miserable conditions. Children working on farms are inhaling poisonous pesticides.
Those working in industries are handling machines meant for adults. Domestic workers are at the mercy of their employers and the life of a bonded worker is nothing better than that of a chained animal. What Burra describes as the condition of children working in the glass industry of India is reminiscent of a 19th century scenario at the end of the 20th century: No factory owner wants a labourer to die on the premises as there would be an inquiry and compensation would have to be paid…Glucose drips were given daily to workers who faint with dehydration and heat exhaustion…
The inhuman conditions of work take their toll upon the health of workers. A man by the time he is thirty-five years old is almost finished and has to rely upon his children to save him from starvation and imminent death. There are almost 50,000 children below the age of fourteen year working in the glass industry…If a person starts working at the age of eight or nine, he is burnt out by the time he is thirty-five.
Poverty and ill-health force him to use his children and the vicious cycle continues inexorably (Burra, 1995,41). For this and many other reasons, many consider the term child labour too benign for the fate of most child labourers. It is child slavery (Senser,1994). This is more so due to the widespread incidence of bonded child labourers and child exploitation in the less developed countries. These slaves are not made by chains, but by debt and exploitation.
As estimated by the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, there are a total of one million children in servitude engaged in the Indian subcontinent- 500,000 in Pakistan, 300,000 in India and 200,000 in Nepal (US Department of Labor,1995,85). They are also evident in small-scale industrial units and the sex industry of Thailand and the Philippines, in the charcoal industry of Brazil, in the gold panning operations in the jungles of Peru, and in the camel racing sport of the Gulf states. Among the occupations in which children are employed, child domestic work is a 5form of hidden and sometimes forced child labour that is difficult to identify. It occurs in a disguised manner behind closed doors and thus often goes unnoticed and unresearched. Often employers engage these children with the promise of education, food and good living conditions, but these promises are rarely fulfilled.
These children have to work long hours. Child domestics in Jakarta work 12 to 15 hours a day and are paid little (UNICEF 1997,30). In Zimbabwe, the work day for a child domestic is between 10 and 15 hours long; in Morocco, a survey found that 72% of such children start their working day before 7 a.m. and 65% could not go to bed before 11 p.m. (UN Chronicle, 1996). Among the occupations in which children are engaged in the urban areas of Bangladesh, domestic work was commonest.
Estimates for Dhaka alone range from 200,000 to one million, almost all girls (Stalker, 1996,11). This is probably the most numerous group of child workers. A number of other surveys found the second numerous group of child labourers in the urban areas of Bangladesh were the children selling various goods and services. Of the children surveyed in the key locations, around half were involved in some kind of selling.
The waste collectors are probably the third largest group. There may be around 100,000 waste collectors of various kinds in Dhaka, combing through the rubbish dumps and wandering the streets with sacks over their shoulders. Up to one third of these are girls (Pelto, 1995). As far as small factories are concerned, children aged 5-15 years accounted for 40% of the total workforce. Given that the 5-14 years age group made up only 26% of municipal population, this represented a significant degree of concentration (Karmaker, 1994). Almost all of those were boys. Different industries seemed to engage children of different age groups.
The younger boys, aged 5-12 years, were to be found in industries such as jewelry, shoes, lock making and book binding. Older boys aged 12-15 years were more likely to be found in engineering and automobile workshops as well as in furniture, glass and electric wire industries. Factories with the highest proportion of child workers were candle making (71%), kite-making(58%) and electronics (58%). In rural areas a study of villages (Ahmed & Quasem,1991) concluded that working boys spent 79% of their time in agriculture and 5% in household work. Girls spent 71% of their time in housework, 25% in agriculture and 4% in non-agricultural work (Stalker, 1996,11). 6In case of the formal sector, the garment industry of Bangladesh has caught the attention of the world. A 1992 study by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies suggested that around 10% of the garment work force was under age, which would have entailed about 80,000 children (BIDS, 1992). Out of these 80,000 children, 10,500 were children between 8-14 years and most of them were girls.Eradication of child labour Legislation alone has proved insufficient for eradication of child labour in less developed countries. Pursuant to the 1973 United Nations convention, most countries made provisions of law that set a minimum required age for working, but apparently to no avail. The Constitution of Bangladesh (Articles 23 and 34) also contains provisions conveying the same spirit and idea. It prohibits the employment of children in factories, mines or in any hazardous work.
Bangladesh has also passed a compulsory Primary Education Act, providing penal prescription on parents for not sending a child to school. But to create an enforcement mechanism is not only a costly proposition, it also possesses the potential of yet another breeding ground for corruption. Therefore, the making of laws has to be accompanied by the provision of alternatives acceptable to children and their families. Citing unemployment, poverty and illiteracy are a superficial way of looking at the issue. Adult unemployment may be the immediate reason why parents send their children to work.
Thus abolition of child labour may well open up employment opportunities for adults in the same places where their children work. Often adults, incapacitated by years of labour in their own childhood are forced to send their children to continue the same vicious cycle of poverty, ill-health and death. Poverty and illiteracy create a mind set that employers are willing to exploit for their profit.
Employers prefer children for their easy manipulation and low cost, not for their expertise or capacity for hard work. If the world is to witness the elimination and proper rehabilitation of child labourers, the question of releasing the children from their work places and subsequent rehabilitation should occupy an important item on the international agenda. The socioeconomic reality of Bangladesh or of any poor country will not permit the total and sudden elimination of child labour, as children released without proper rehabilitation are 7bound to drift towards some other sources of employment. This is the paradox of child labour reform (Berlau, 1997). Efforts to outlaw child labour might lead to results even more inhumane for the very children they intend to help. For example, children of landless labourers of the drought-prone areas of Bihar in India work in the carpet industries under semi-slavery conditions. Although some of them were restored to their parents, they were again sent back to work for the same masters by their parents.
The logic of the parents was that since they could not afford to feed their children, the children had to somehow earn to feed themselves (Burra, 1996,21). In Bangladesh, a study conducted by the UNICEF and the ILO (Berlau, 1997) tried to trace some of the children released from the garment industry to see what happened to them after their termination from employment. Some were found working in more hazardous situations, in unsafe workshops where they were paid less, or in prostitution.
More importantly, often there is the question of the survival of the entire family, which leads children to go in search of jobs. The UNICEF survey of the garment factories found that almost 90% of the children were from single-parent households and homes where there had been a death or disability. Almost 50% were the sole supporters for their families (Canada and the World Backgrounder, 1997). In most of these families, the childrens’ contribution made the difference between destitution and survival (Chawla, 1996:16).
Hence, the issue of release and rehabilitation of child labourers in developing countries has to be dealt from several angles simultaneously. Technical cooperation is a significant step in this direction. Technical cooperation programmes like the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) can play and has played a significant role in the release and rehabilitation of child labourers in the less developed countries, as seen from the experience of Bangladesh. .
Involvement of international agencies is imperative to break the cycle of vested interests, powerful elites and unscrupulous middlemen who want to preserve the present state of affairs. The case of the slain child activist Iqbal Masih from Pakistan is an example in point. Masih, a 12-year-old and an ex-bonded labourer in Pakistan’s notorious carpet industry, helped lead a movement against the abuses of the child labourers in Pakistan. He drew the attention of the world to the realities in poor countries that often perpetuate the existence of such evil; he became a threat to the powerful carpet lobby. 8The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) is a technical cooperation programme of the International Labour Organization towards elimination of child labour. Spread across four continents, it is active in twenty-five countries. Bangladesh’s garment industry is just one example of the implementation of an action programme under IPEC, but it is unique. Started in 1995 after observing the plight of the released child labourers, the programme began with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the BGMEA, ILO and UNICEF, detailing areas of cooperation.
The MOU provides that all child labourers below 14 years of age in the garment sector be removed from factories and enrolled in schools and paid a monthly stipend. By September 1996, 130 MOU schools for former child workers have opened, serving nearly 2300 children (Reich, 1996,7), a figure that quadrupled by next year end (Berlau, 1997).
This project is unique in that the employers are playing an active role for educating their former underage workers. The government, trade unions or nongovernmental organisations implement the other projects under IPEC in Bangladesh. As Stackhouse (1996) observes, this could be a model of how to build a bridge between two worlds, the development agencies that advocate child rights and the private sector, which employs most of the world’s working children.
For an effective elimination of the child labour problem, legislation and economic incentives have to work together and technical cooperation has an important role. Bhagawati observes that child labour laws only worked in the United States and other countries when the standard of living had risen to a level where it was no longer an economic necessity for children to work (Berlau, 1997). The less developed countries cannot expect to achieve this, if during the process of their growth, a huge portion of their human resources remain uneducated and untrained, trapped in a cycle of poverty, illiteracy and death.
Child labour in countries like South Korea and Japan decreased as their economies grew strong and it is well known that the bases of their economic growth were sown when education was made compulsory for all children. Technical assistance in the form of aid and know-how are important. Such assistance can help defray the expenses relating to, (a) free and compulsory primary education for all children, (b) implementation of part-time income generating schemes, 9(c) developing the technical and managerial capacity of those involved in the rehabilitation of child labour, (d)strengthening institutional capacity in the form of organization development, (e) research for combating child labour, and (f) awareness raising and social mobilisation. The less developed countries need to increase their budget for primary education and also revise their system of imparting formal education at fixed hours. The system has to be informal and flexible, as only non-formal education can serve as a bridge for working children to enter the world as productive and healthy adults. Several programmes are trying to address the paradox of child labour reform (Berlau,1997).
The concept of Underprivileged Children’s Education Programme (UCEP), as introduced in Bangladesh, is a step in this direction. The main objective of UCEP is to impart general and vocational education to the underprivileged children and to provide them with jobs through UCEP job placement centres. Many students of the UCEP schools also do odd jobs like shining shoes on the footpath, some work as vendors, some in rickshaw garages or as garbage pickers and so on.
The UNICEF Report on the State of the World’s Children (UNICEF, 1997,51) evidences other successful cases. In Honduras, more than 2000 young street workers have benefited from formal and non-formal education at Project Alternatives & Opportunities, which provides health care, counseling, school supplies, uniforms and when needed, partial scholarships and nutritional supplements. Another programme in Loja (Ecuador) pays weekly stipends that approximate the earnings of a shoeshine boy while teaching handicraft production.
Education systems have to be reoriented to suit the needs of child labourers and designed for different age groups in such a way that in due course the children, irrespective of the age at which they enter the system, become healthy and productive adult members of society.
The education to be given should attain the objectives of non formal education, that is community development, self-help, leadership, awareness raising, decision-making and participation. One example of a creative solution to child labour being practiced in Colombia is a program called Tierra de Vida. A branch of the Swiss charity Sentinelles, it is a program which offers children alternative employment to the usual work in coal mines. The children still work, but they work outdoors, cultivating 10fruits and vegetables that will go to feed hungry children, and they have enough time to attend school in the evenings (Economist, 1994). It is also important to consider fruitful activities in which released and rehabilitated children may engage after school hours in order to prevent their drifting towards unlawful and criminal activities.
Combining beneficial work and education in the form of non-formal education as mentioned above is necessary, as such forms of child work help to fill leisure time, specially in places where organised outside activities are absent to keep children away from streets, crimes and criminals. Much depends on addressing the special needs of the different groups of child labourers. The needs of the domestic child labourer and the needs of the bonded child labourer have to be addressed differently.
Child labourers working within the closed doors of a household as domestics face different risks than child labourers working in a factory or in the streets. As far as domestics are concerned, the Maurice Sixto Shelter is one programme that tries to address the multiple developmental risks faced by child domestic workers (UNICEF, 1997,31). It aids 300 child domestics working in a Port-auPrince (Haiti) suburb, where the child workers attend non-formal classes with other children in the afternoon. Shelter workers gain the employers’ consent to unite child domestics as often as possible with their natural families.
Another programme is the Sinaga Women and Child Labour Resource Centre in Nairobi (Kenya) which is trying to better the lives of some of Kenya’s estimated 200,000 child domestic workers by providing basic education classes and skills training The released bonded child labourers found in the informal sector face a different set of issues. The image of a child , slaving away over the thousands of tiny wool knots in the carpet industry of South Asia is known the world over. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with the aid of international donor agencies have attempted to rescue these children and place them in rehabilitation homes.
One such agency is the South Asian Coalition of Child Servitude (SACCS) which unionises labour, involves the news media for mass awareness, pressurises the enforcing agencies for speedy action and rescues bonded child labourers. But rescuing these children is not enough; rehabilitating them in such a way that they do not again fall prey to the unscrupulous hands of their former masters is a daunting task. 11Again, there is the special group of child labourers, the street children, whose needs are completely different from that of the domestics or bonded labourers. Many of these children do not have contacts with their families and many of them do not want to go back to their families. Agencies such as the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organisation should make sure that governments are complying with international laws and standards relating to child labour. The World Bank and other lending institutions should assess the effects of proposed projects on the incidence of child labour and provide funding only when satisfied.
The international community should actively involve non-governmental organisations to effectively implement the task of release and rehabilitation of child labourers. International consumers should help in the process by not purchasing goods made with child labour. The labelling movement has already attempted to create customer awareness through distinctive symbols like the Rugmark seal on a carpet. But such social labelling initiatives should be combined with goals such as, light work with schooling and gradual elimination of child labour. Otherwise, it will worsen the plight of the very children whose situation was supposed to improve.
Bodies like SACCS and other NGOs will have to fight child labour in less developed countries, especially for child labourers in the informal sector, with the help of international bodies. Although the export-sector is most visible, a UNICEF report notes that these account for less than five percent of jobs held by children (Berlau, 1997). Most children are working in the undocumented informal sector, where conditions are harsh and sometimes inhumane. What is required is for international bodies to assist NGOs in eliminating child labour in a phased manner.
A safety net is a good idea to relocate the released children to other beneficial activities. Progress may be slow, but similar ventures like the one adopted in the garment industry of Bangladesh is a necessity. Codes of conduct that have already appeared in the garment industry through policies that address child labour and other working conditions is required for other industries too. Parties involved in technical cooperation have to be aware of issues to be monitored. In Bangladesh, the garment industry is now required to terminate the services of its child labourers and provide stipend and schooling to them, until they come of age to 12work legally. In some cases, industries may deny the existence of child labour by hiding the children or disclaim responsibility by sub-contracting. Codes of conduct should be applicable to all involved in the supply chain. These should not be used by firms merely as an advertising gimmick for selling their products. Imposition of restrictions may simply prompt the industries to close down, putting many adults out of work and closing the avenues of future adult employment. A way out could be to involve organisation of industries in that sector to make this economically viable. In Pakistan, multinational corporations and their local suppliers have joined with international organisations in an effort to eliminate child labour from the soccer ball industry.
This is a significant step in linking the energies of international organisations, industry groups, workers and governments. It is also important to ensure that corporate responsibility is voluntary and extends to all domestic industries and not confined to a select few. Brazil’s example is relevant here. In 1995, the Volkswagen company in Brazil initiated a series of studies with the aim of eliminating child labour in vehicle production assembly lines. The Brazilian Association of Citrus Exporters also committed itself to combat child labour in orange juice production and processing activities. 
Similarly, the sugar and alcohol industries also signed an agreement with the government pledging to eradicate child labour in that sector. Mobilisation of civil society has to be a necessary component of the strategy. The problem of child labour has reached the consciousness of the society in Bangladesh. A movement for attitude change and raising awareness gains ground. This involvement will facilitate the formation of interest groups which are essential for enforcing legislation.
Conclusion The state, society, parents and international agencies need to play complementary roles in eliminating child labour. The interests of different players in this area are of course often diametrically opposed. This implies that all parties will have to be prepared to give and take – a process that needs to be economically viable and ultimately in the interests of the children who do not have the maturity to decide for themselves. In Bangladesh, child labour cannot be considered in isolation from the socio-economic realities. 
This means that total and sudden elimination of child labour at one point of time could threaten the delicate socio-economic balances of the less developed countries. But the price of child labour is continued illiteracy, backwardness, ill-health and adult unemployment. Hence, sector-wise elimination in a phased manner is appropriate. Technical cooperation to governments, non-governmental organisations and other agencies in this endeavour must be strongly promoted.
Bibliography: Ahmed, A. and Quasem, M.A., 1991, Child Labour in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, Dhaka. Bangladesh Garment Manu