Focus is on linking child labour with fertility

CHILD LABOUR IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT - DIMENSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS Edited by: Ramesh Kanbargi Publisher: Sage Publications, New Delhi Price: Rs 190

THE TITLE promises a holistic analysis of the multi-faceted issue of child labour, but the book loses credibility because it concentrates on child labour's link with fertility.

The studies relate largely to rural India and the subcontinent. Fertility-based explanations of child labour miss the crux of the problem: poverty of the family. In the rural areas of the subcontinent, poverty is inextricably connected to environmental degradation. The solutions enumerated by the contributors to the volume harp vaguely on how various "developmental" measures can conquer child labour. The contributors seem to forget that development is the antidote of poverty.

Strangely, the high rate of poverty-linked infant mortality is ignored in linking fertility and child labour. The book, published last year, contains eight papers that were presented at a seminar in 1986. Two years later, the book's editor, Ramesh Kanbargi, acknowledged the "unclear nature of child labour-fertility interlinkages" in the October issue of Seminar magazine.

Even in the volume being reviewed, some of the contributors are not very happy with the fertility-child labour link. Tim Dyson, for example, states parents in the developing countries are not guided in their fertility decisions by the economic contribution of the children. And Michael Vlassoff fails to understand the two-way child labour-fertility relationship and points out that firm conclusions are ruled out because of inadequate data on the cost of raising children and on whether child labour truly results in more productive adults.

Other studies conclude the best way to reduce child labour is by providing adults with higher wages and other economic benefits and providing educational and health facilities to children -- in short, by reducing rural poverty.

N S Jodha and R P Singh demonstrate the use of child labour as an adaptive strategy to an unfriendly productive environment in the rain-fed regions of India.

Kanbargi and P M Kulkarni report a "weak" link between child labour and fertility. The study, based on a sample of 45 villages in Karnataka, reveals the impact of the environment on child labour. Half of the 10 districts have a high incidence of child labour coupled with low rainfall and the growing of intensive crops such as cotton, groundnut and chillies. The other half experiences high rainfall and employs skilled adult labour instead of children for their paddy, coffee and fruit crops.

Indeed, the ecology-child labour link merits a special look because poor children in both rural and urban areas are the worst victims of a degraded and polluted environment. India has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of working children of school-going age. Will the voiceless millions ever inherit the earth?

Aditi Kapoor is a journalist with the Times of India.

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