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Report No. 165

Chapter II

Causes of Denial of Education to Children in our Country

2.1. Various causes of illiteracy among children and adults have been identified by many scholars. It will be fruitful to notice some of the principal ones as set out below.

2.1.1. Prevalence of child labour.-

Child labour is a socio-economic phenomenon. Illiteracy, ignorance, low wages, unemployment, poor standard of living, poverty, deep social prejudices and appalling backwardness of the countryside are all cumulatively the root causes of child labour. The direct consequence of child in labour is that a child is denied the opportunity to seek education in a school.

2.1.2. The notion that children should be sent to school and not be a part of the labour force is a comparatively recent idea. A few hundred years ago children in most countries worked with their parents looking after the crops and cattle, collecting fire-wood and fetching water and food. It was only the children of the privileged classes who were educated and thus able to retain their position of power.

2.1.3. But in those days child labour was very different to what happened as a result of industrialisation. It was based on the belief that a child should contribute to the maintenance of the family, which was a social unit. However, after industrialisation children started working in mines and factories and with machinery and chemicals. They worked for low wages and for long hours and were exploited, with great risk to their health and well being. They also worked in cottage industries. It was only in 1284 that a Venetian statute forbade glass makers from employing children in certain dangerous branches of the glass making trade and only in 1396 that a Venetian ducal edict prohibited children under 13 from working .in certain trades1.

1. Myron Weiner The Child and the State in India (Second Edn.), Chapter 6, p. 110.

2.1.4. As Myron Weiner has observed1, it was only in the subsequent centuries that childhood was discovered and children were:

"transformed from valuable wage-earners to economically useless but emotionally priceless objects. The transformation did not occur without considerable public debate and while the upper and middle classes held this view of their own children they did not readily apply it to the children or the poor."

1. Id., at p. 115.

2.1.5. Surprisingly, it was Voltaire who wrote1 that:

"it is absolutely necessary that a great proportion of mankind is destined to drudgery in the meanest occupations, that nothing but early habit can render it tolerable, and that to give the meanest of people an education beyond the station in which Providence has assigned them is doing a real injury."

1. Referred in ibid.

English conservatives argued that schooling was inappropriate for the working class, whose children could better acquire skills as apprentices.

2.1.6. It was in the 19th century that governments started to regulate conditions of employment for children and took on the role as protector of children against employers and parents. This attitude was closely linked to the idea of education or children. As a result even poor parents were not allowed to use their children's labour instead of sending them to school. At the end of the 19th century Japan became the first non-Western country to make elementary school education compulsory. This was successfully followed by South Korea and Taiwan.

2.1.7. It was only when children were viewed as "priceless" rather than as an investment that attitudes started changing and fertility rates declined. In order to ensure universal education it was necessary to remove children from the labour force and make them attend school. This was politically contentious. The-opposition to State intervention is based on the concept of the rights and obligations of the State versus the rights and obligations of parents and the character of the economic order.

2.2. India is going through these debates even today and the socio-political forces are very much at play. The main argument against compulsory education is that child labour is necessary for the well being of the poor as the State is unable to provide relief. The second argument is that education would make the poor unsuited for the kind of manual work that is required to be done. The third argument is that certain industries would be forced to close down if they did not have the facility of the low wage child labour. The last argument against banning child labour and enforcing compulsory education is that the State should not be allowed to interfere in the parents' rights who know what is best for their children and families.

2.2.1. Some people in India feel that society cannot afford to do without the labour of children while the real question is whether we can afford to have child labour, illiterate children and still talk of tomorrow's citizens1? It is clear that compulsory elementary education cannot wait till poverty is totally eliminated. It is the child's constitutional right and the duty of the State to provide it. State intervention to remove children from the labour force and require that they attend school has always been politically contentious.

The debate is endless. The family's need for money, the mother's need for help, the difficulties of the industry dependent on child labour, the view that education would make the poor unsuitable for the kind of manual work, that is required, the State's resources, the children's need for education and the society's claim that the children should be "trained to intelligent citizenship".

1. Laila Seth, The First Rosalind Wilson Memorial Lecture, India International Centre Quarterly, Winter 1993, pp. 79, 85.

2.2.2. The figures of child labour in India vary from 17 million to 44 million to 100 million. A large per centage of these children work in cultivation and agriculture including live-stock, fishing, plantations etc. and the unorganized sector. In the urban areas a large per centage works as domestic servants, rag-pickers, building and construction labourers, in garages, dhabas and stone quarries etc.

2.2.3. The constitutional mandate provides in Article 24 that no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any hazardous employment. This article cannot be understood as permitting employment of children in employments other than those mentioned in the article. This article must be understood and interpreted in the light of the relevant Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Part IV of the Constitution, as held by the Supreme Court in Unnikrishnan J.P.1.

The Directive Principles provide in Articles 39(e) and (f) that the tender age of children be not abused and citizens be not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength and further that children be given opportunities and facilities to develop in an healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth be protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment.

1. Unnikrishnan J.P. v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1993 SC 2178.

2.2.4. Article 41, one of the Directive Principles, provides for the right to education within the limits of the State's economic capacity and development and Article 47 requires the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.

2.2.5. Article 45 which is of utmost importance, provides for free and compulsory education for all children till they complete the age of fourteen years. The State has been enjoined to endeavour to provide this within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution. Though this is also a Directive Principle it has now been raised by the Supreme Court to a fundamental right as per its judgment in Unnikrishnan's case decided on 4th February, 1993. Consequently the abolition of child labour and the providing of free and compulsory education to children, which are two sides of a coin, and are interlinked is a matter of great public concern and one of the most important functions of the Indian State.

2.2.6. India has also made an international commitment, to do so on 11th December, 1992 while ratifying the 1989 UN Convention on the rights of the child. The Government of India has, subject to resources, undertaken to take measures to progressively implement the provisions of Article 32 of the Convention. This specially recognises the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education or to be harmful to the child's health or vitiate his mental, spiritual, moral or social development.

2.3. The International Labour office1, has framed the causes and forms of child labour. They state that the extent and nature of their work are influenced mainly by the structure of the economy and the level and pace of development.

1. International Labour Officer, Geneva, Child Labour: A bringing Manual, pp. 1-2.

2.3.1. In agrarian societies work by children is an integral part of the socialisation process and a means of transmitting traditionally acquired skills, from parent to child. To some extent, comparable patterns are also found in artisanal workshops and small scale services. Children assist their parents in ancillary tasks, acquire skills and gradually become fully-fledged workers in family establishments or trades. However, the ILO did not consider it child labour. In the view of the ILO, child labour as work or employment situation is where children under the age of 15 are engaged on a more or less regular basis to earn a livelihood for themselves or their families1.

1. International Labour Office, Geneva, Child Labour: A Briefing manual, pp. 1-2, 11.

2.3.2. Causes attributable to child labour can be said to be poverty, low earning capacity of adults in families; unemployment; large families coupled with low income; child labour as a cheep commodity; non-existent of provision for compulsory education; illiteracy and ignorance of parents about advantages of education.

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