Lost Childhoods

We have all seen these often.

Children, barely eight or nine years old, selling evening newspapers at intersections.

Young children working as domestic servants.

Children working at roadside stalls and teashops.

Children employed in bidi or carpet factories.

Children working at railway stations, shining shoes, or as helpers to stall-owners.

Children working as rag pickers on the streets.

Children working when they should be playing or studying.

So many lost childhoods.

 Some of them have no one to take care of them. Some of them are sent to work by their parents whose poverty forces them to do so.

India has attempted to formulate laws to regulate child labour.

The government has prohibited employment of children in hazardous occupations.

The working conditions of children have been regulated in all employment which are not prohibited.

But the problem in Asian countries like India is not a simple one of banning child labour and enforcing the ban.

In the early 1990s there was widespread publicity about the use of child labour in Asian industries. So trade sanctions were introduced by US policy-makers. The US proposed a ban, on import of goods from Asian countries to the US, which used child labour in the production process.

There was especially a great outcry against the Bangladeshi garment industry which supplied clothes to Walmart in the US. So Walmart cancelled its contract with the Bangladeshi manufacturers.

This resulted in mass dismissal of children from the industry. But they did not go back to school. Many of them got employment in hazardous industries. Some became servants. Some took to begging. And some turned to prostitution.

India can take a lesson from this. Obviously just banning child labour will not work.

The solution is not so simple. There is no magic formula.

There should be policies aimed at alleviating poverty simultaneously with literacy drives. Quality education must be available for all children. Merely making schooling up to 14 years mandatory, is of no use, without making it easily accessible.

And gaining an education must result in employment opportunities later on. Poor families losing the income that the child earns, must be given some alternative in the meantime.

Merely trying to enforce labour laws without addressing the underlying causes of child labour is not likely to be of much effect.

Until a multi- pronged effort is made, there will continue to be children at work instead of at school – in tea-shops, in homes of the wealthy, in factories and at street corners.

Many more childhoods lost.



  1. You know in India, a large number of children drop out of schools because of being beaten by the teachers. Teachers, parents and children all accept some beating as the normal method of teaching – the British influence. And I completely agree that education has to be PRACTICAL. Rote system that is used is so ridiculous … my daughter once wrote the opposite of ‘beautiful’ as not ‘ugly’ but ‘awful’ and the teacher suggested this as because I was tying to rush teach her my way! That they should be allowed to teach.Indian traffic doesn’t stress me but I actually get stressed just talking about this. (no exaggeration) … okay my next post.


  2. IHM- As you say, many children do drop out of school because of ill treatment by teachers. There is certainly need of reform in our education system.But many of them do not have even this choice. They have to discontinue school and go to work. And it doesn’t seem that merely making laws against child labour will work.


  3. vatsalya and Pratam – 2 projects started by nirmala niketan college of social work address the very problem that you and IHM has raised in your post and comment respectively.


  4. Anrosh- A few years ago I was fortunate to visit one of Pratam’s centers. It was in a slum area where people mostly from the Kunchkurve community (traditionally basket weavers/ broom makers) lived. The Pratam teachers were running a ‘bridge’ course for students who had dropped out of school in the 2nd or 3rd standards and wanted to go back to school.I remember I was impressed by their dedication.


  5. IHM- I don’t know anyone there personally, but here is their website.-http://www.pratham.org/Apparently it is now an independent organisation.


  6. hello manju, hi ihm, the philisophy of these organizations addresses the very core of the system – the good thing is it is home grown and has sustainable and cultural components which stike the chords of the stakeholders very well. having set up the basic priniciples and foundations pratham has moved towards the policy level.http://www.thevatsalyafoundation.org/ – swati who heads the institution is very dedicated. http://www.pratham.org/knowus/initiative/india.php nirmala niketan college of social work at marine lines has a number of projects ( that have bloomed into full fledged organizations ) and is doing some meaningful work.i don’t know how much they are actively connected to the internet) ( who gets the email and if they will reply ), but if you call them up and ask you transfer them to one of the projects ( they work with many stakeholders ) they would connect you. Pratam and vatsalya have sprouted in many places.good luck


  7. we have the most absurd law on child labour…if i recall correctly it says u cant hire a child under 14 in a hazardous vocation..so what does that mean, if the child is 15 you can? plus we dont follow a standard cut off age for defining who is a child. the convention on the rights of the child says its 18. we have signed the convention. but obviously we hvnt bothered to align our laws with it.i think the NGO sector is proactively doing more than the govt to fight child labour.mandira


  8. Mandira- the laws we have, do seem inadequate. In addition they cannot always be enforced. And even when they are enforced, it seems the objective of protecting the child is difficult to achieve. :(As you mention, NGOs do seem to be doing more than the govt.


  9. As a kid i always wanted to drop out of school, run away…. not because of my teachers but because i hated studying… However i am very thankful to my teachers who shaped my life…


  10. “Merely trying to enforce labour laws without addressing the underlying causes of child labour is not likely to be of much effect.” The crux of the matter. It is also necessary that ‘more children mean more income’ reasoning should be tackled. When children bring in income, parents prefer to have more number of children!


  11. Cool Cancerian- “When children bring in income, parents prefer to have more number of children!”Very true, parents need to to be educated re: this.If they see that an education will enable the child to earn more later on, they may be convinced of at least one advantage of sending a child to school.


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