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Child labor refers to placing children who are below the minimum legal age into sustained and regular employment. Child labor has its origin long before the 18th century, work houses in the Great Britain would sell children who had been orphaned and abandoned as pauper apprentices. In the coal mines, children as young as five were put into employment. The industrial revolution caused more misery to the children as they worked for more than 12 hours. In the present day, child labor is still rampant with children working as tour guides, waiters and in the informal sector e.g. in agriculture and housework. UNICEF estimates that 158million children are engaged in child labor and this figure is increasing every day. In this discussion, we are going to analyze the main causes of child labor in India where 14.4 % children aged between 10 and 14 years are in child labor.
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The first cause of rampant child labor in India is high levels of poverty. Children from poverty stricken families seek employment to be able to meet their basic needs. The parents to these children are left at a predicament as to whether to take their children to school or to send them to work supplement their income. Parents send their children to dangerous jobs even though they know it is not right because they need to survive. India has also been known for being over populated and this causes scarcity of resources with more mouths to feed; this pushes children to look for employment as their parents cannot adequately provide for them. A research conducted in India revealed that income from child labor represented 34-37% of the total income of the household. This research concludes that income from child labor is crucial for the livelihood of a family.
The second cause of the child labor is the lack of availability of finances to the poor Indian people. Indians in the rural areas sell their children to someone who can give loan. In this case the child is sold as collateral or security to the amount of the loan given to their parents. This practice is referred to as the bonded labor. The children who have been exchanged for the loans are given very small amounts of food to keep them alive. In fact most of them are not paid anything as they are servicing a loan. Sometimes the people giving out the loan hold these children in their homes and the period may be lifetime. This practice is particularly prevalent in Vellore District; here the child can stay with the parents for as long as they report to work at 8am every day (Hindman 84).
Large family size is another fact we cannot ignore when analyzing the causes of increased child labor in India. Large families are prevalent in India; unfortunately, these are the poor families who cannot be able to provide for the whole family. These families believe that by giving birth to many children, they are fulfilling their obligations and believe that God will provide food for them, unfortunately, children are the ones left to suffer. It becomes extremely hard for parents to feed their families well and invest for their children's future. As a result, these parents send their children out to get employment thus increasing child labor.
The other cause for the rising cases of child labor is the industrial revolution. The emerging industries prefer to hire young children as they can be forced to do more work with little pay. To the industries, child labor is a cheap commodity and they can save on wages. Besides, children are obedient and can be forced into submission easily. In addition, children do not have a union that can sue the industries thus saving on legal costs. This attitude has made it hard for adults to get jobs in the industries thereby pushing their children to get jobs to sustain them. The highest level of exploitation of child labor is seen in the garment industries. Similarly, as multinational companies expand their operations across borders, the government encourages low labor costs so as to attract investments.
The other reason for increased child labor is the illiteracy and ignorance of the uneducated parents. They believe that their children will not get employment when they finish school and graduate and so they prefer to have their children working than going to waste time in school. They also feel the returns on education are very low compared to the returns from the child labor. Other parents have a feeling that children learn skills of work from working at an early age and not from formal education. In addition, these parents believe that the more the children, the more the family income and therefore they send more of their children to work (Sharma 99).
The next reason for increasing child labor is the state of the education system in India; there are high rates of drop outs from schools and high illiteracy levels. Most pupils drop out of school when they can neither read nor write. In some areas, the education is not accessible or where it is accessible, it is not affordable. The children are therefore forced to spend most time working. The quality of education offered by the Indian Municipal schools is so poor that it is not helpful for the children. The poor quality of Education results from a number of reasons, among them, teachers who are paid poorly, lack of textbooks and other learning facilities. Children are also subjected to severe corporal punishment and girls are sexually harassed. This leads to a very high dropout rate and thus these children end up seeking employment. The lack of compulsory education for Indian children from a prescribed age has fuelled child labor in India. The provision of a compulsory education would have left little chance for children to be available for employment (Schmitz 65).
Another reason for child labor in India is Caste system in India. It is believed that the Dalit family is the lowest caste in India and they are untouchable, they are expected to work for free for the upper castes, in addition they are not allowed access to land or education and are forced to work in very harsh working conditions. The upper castes treat them as slaves and subject them to economic exploitation. Children from the Dalit family do not go to school and thus spend their lives working for the upper castes. The Dalit family remains poor and the cycle continues as the children cannot free themselves from the poverty trap. This accelerates the bonded labor in children.
The ever increasing divorce rates are another cause of child labor in India. Divorce is a very harsh experience among children. It becomes hard for the children to adjust to the life of having to stay with a single parent having been used to a life with both parents. Sometimes children lose their sole breadwinner and thus have to look for jobs to sustain themselves. The older children are sometimes forced to drop out of school to provide for their younger siblings and take care of household chores. This has led to an increase in child labor. Alcoholism and irresponsible parents also push their children to drop out of school as they cannot provide for them; these children end up in child labor to feed for themselves. Parents have also established businesses and have their children help them in the businesses. Most of these children end up leaving school to work (Deshta 98).
Rural urban Migration and industrialization has also been a factor leading to the growth of child labor in India. The unemployed people tend to move to the urban centers with their children to look for employment in the industries. A recent study has also revealed that a large number of children are migrating from the rural area to the urban area to work as domestic servants, shoe shiners and other hard jobs.
Children themselves may also get into employment without being pushed by anyone. They may get motivation to go for employment for a number of reasons. One, they may decide to go for employment when they realize that their basic needs and those of their family members are not being provided for properly despite their parents doing their best to provide for them. Children may also be compelled to take up employment shares the out in the family expenses. They may also get the motivation and encouragement from their friends who are already working. Lastly, Children may go for employment so that they can be financially independent (Bhargava 78).
Culture and tradition is another factor we need to consider. Historically, going to class to study has been a practice for the children belonging to the upper caste while the children from the lower castes learn their skills from their parents, thus education has little relevance to this class of people. Children from these castes are committed to the traditions they found in place. A recent study in Bombay city revealed that 41%of the children were working as per their family tradition. Moreover, the in the rural areas, children are motivated to become the breadwinners and so they concentrate on learning the family occupation than going to school to learn.
Last but not least, the lack of enforcement of the labor laws and policies that have been enacted to curb child labor. In 1986, the government of India enacted the Child Labor Act that made child labor illegal and set fourteen as the start age of employment. This Act does not make all child labor illegal and the minimum age set does not meet the ILO guideline. This coupled with lack of enforcement of the policies in place have not assisted to stop child labor. Though other codes of conduct and laws exist, they mostly violated.
In the modern world, child labor remains a challenge to all nations and an international problem. The discussion above only tries to highlight the main causes of Causes of increased child labor and gives an idea as to where the problem of child education lies. Programmes to solve this problem must be designed and the already designed solutions be enforced to ensure this problem becomes a thing of the past. The international community must also unite to find a long-lasting solution to this problem.