Child labor is a pervasive problem all over the globe, persisting for generations. It is the epitome of violation and abuse of children’s basic rights. Significant factors of modernity, such as industrialization, urbanization, rapid population increase, and an increased awareness of human development have prominently attached significance to various social problems that were nearly forgotten, such a child labour. The highest percentage of incidences of child labor is in developing countries, particularly in the rural areas of Africa and Asia. These are the areas that are characterized by high levels of poverty, rigid traditional roles, and inaccessibility or lack of educational facilities. 11% of the global children population, accounting for approximately 168 million children are laborers, with about half of them being subjected to hazardous working environments. Although the problem of child labour has been significantly declining in India, it is still prevalent in different areas of the country. Poverty is the leading cause of child labor where children are forced to work for the purposes of upgrading their family’s income and changing their economic welfare in general. Their vulnerability makes children more susceptible to exploitation and abuse.
Poverty in itself is a core driver of stigma and isolation. Stigmatization is often in the form of depicting the materially deprived as ‘the other’ by using particular language or phrases, labels, and images, occurring at different levels and sections of the society. This results in the process of negatively stereotyping the disadvantaged people, which can be perpetrated by other members of the society and even the people experiencing poverty. The latter is advanced by the pressure of dissociating themselves from the stigma and shame of poverty (Shildrick & Rucell, 2015). Children fall into child labour often because of poverty and the subsequent pressure of escaping this plight. Based on the theory of symbolic interactionism, engaging in child labor is not a rational decision but which is influenced by a desire to change one’s current status of poverty or simply meet their basic needs and advance in life. This is where other people, mostly the rich ones, take advantage of those suffering from poverty by giving the children meagre pay for hard work within bad working conditions. Children on their part, perceive the work they do as a means to escape the glaring poverty in their families. Thus, even though engaging in child labour negatively affects the children’s developmental progress, they will continue to work nonetheless.
Child labor is often a cause of parents’ compulsion and pressure on children either for supplementing the family’s income or helping in meeting their own basic needs. Since child labor is not legally allowed, children are exposed to hazardous conditions, such as operating heavy machinery, mines, harmful agricultural chemicals, and in extreme conditions like forced prostitution and slavery that includes bonded labour (Rao, n. d). They work for long hours, rarely getting holidays or off-days even those that have been declared by the government to be holidays. Child labour is a situation that rebuffs opportunities for physical, mental, and social development of the affected children (Bhat, 2010). Therefore, the definition of the phenomenon is not limited to the age factor but also includes the social context within which it exists. The latter includes the aspect of compulsion or lack of it. It also encompasses the dominant social and cultural environments and their role in either increasing or decreasing child labour. For example, the western construct is such that children should be protected, nurtured, and educated. However, this perspective varies from culture to culture across the world in respect to the role of children in their upbringing.
Modern day cultural beliefs that rationalize child labour include the belief that work is essential for character building and skill development. In many Indian informal industries and small household businesses, it is a common tradition for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents and continue with the family businesses (Parvathamma, 2015). To such families, child labour is an opportunity for the children to gain the necessary skills and practice for future responsibilities. This offers a child-centered perspective in which interventions in child-work puts the interests of children first and foremost without any ulterior adult agenda.
In addition, it is a prevalent practice in India for parents to pledge their children against debts or other social obligations. The practice often leads to trafficking of children to urban areas for employment ultimately resulting in bonded child labour. Caste-based discrimination in which members of the lower Dalit class are exploited and abused highly perpetuate child labour. Based on the structural functionalism theory, members of each class are segregated to their own roles with those of the Dalit members being laborers of the upper caste members. In addition, it advances the socio-situational theory in which parents are forced to engage their children in child labour due to their interactions with the cultural community.
While India has made significant strides in eradicating all forms of child labour, the persistence of the social problem has been influenced by different factors. These include poverty, inequitable distribution of resources between rural and urban areas, long standing caste-based discrimination, inadequate educational opportunities, high fertility rates among the poor people reinforcing the poverty cycle. The socio-situational theory best explains child labour in India. Social structures characterized by the aforementioned factors exerts pressure on parents to engage their children in child labour in attempts of gaining control over their situations.
- Bhat, B. A., (2010). Gender, Education and Child Labour: A Sociological Perspective. Educational Research and Reviews, 5 (6), pp. 323-328.
- Parvathamma, G. L., (2015). Child Labour in India – A Conceptual and Descriptive Study. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention, 4 (1), pp. 23-32.
- Rao, V., n. d. Urban Child Labour: A Sociological Perspective. Journal of Humanities and Social Science, e-ISSN: 2279-0837, pp. 64-67.
- Shildrick, T., & Rucell, J., (2015). Sociological Perspectives on Poverty. Joseph Rowntree Foundation Report. Retrieved from https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/sociological-perspectives-poverty-full.pdf.