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Session Overview
1-HP002: Tackling Child Labour in the Global South
Monday, 05/July/2021:
3:30pm - 4:45pm

Session Chair: Dr. Pedro Goulart, CAPP, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal
Session Chair: Dr. Nina Schneider, Centre for Global Cooperation Research, Germany

Session Abstract

Child labour in the global south is pervasive and cross-cuts geographies. This practice undermines the right of a child to “develop in the best possible way” and denies equal opportunities within and across countries. Well-intended top-down policies have often neglected the voice of children. With social justice threatened, solidarity is fundamental to overcome the challenges. This interdisciplinary panel aims to discuss past and present child labour policies in the global south asking: What are past and current conditions of children’s work and schooling? What have been the most effective policies? How can we envision the future?

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Community Level Health Programs And Child Labor Evidence from Ethiopia

Alberto Posso1, Udeni De Silva Perera2, Ankita Mishra1

1RMIT University, Australia; 2Monash University, Australia

Many developing countries have adopted community-based primary healthcare programs. A component of these programs is health literacy, which teaches households how to avoid physical harm. Child labor can often result in physical harm through injury. Using Ethiopian panel data, we investigate if exposure to the Health Extension Program, which delivers primary healthcare through Health Extension Workers (HEWs), can lower child labor at the household level. We use a sample of 6,709 observations from 2,339 children over four waves of the Young Lives Project. This data is combined with administrative regional-level data on HEWs over the 2006-2016 period. Our identification strategy exploits variations in the deployment of HEWs across regions and time to investigate a plausibly exogenous effect on child labor. We show evidence that exposure to HEWs lowers child labor. We also show that the mechanism through which this operates is likely by eliciting behavioral change and rule out several other potential channels, including public safety-net programs and an education-cum-child-labor effect.

The “Nimble Fingers”: Informal Child Labour in Handloom Industry of Twentieth Century Eastern Uttar Pradesh

Santosh Kumar Rai

Department of History, University of Delhi, India

In the last two decades labour- both paid and unpaid has become important subject in the social science studies. Here comes the use of the child labour. The general argument to use child labour is that “child labourers with their soft and nimble fingers are very important for the hand skill based handicraft industries”. This “nimble fingers” argument is an historical excuse for employing low paid labour largely in form of children, thereby also maintaining a pool of trained weavers for the future. As per the hierarchy-based division of labour and inheritance of occupations, the children of peasants, artisans and other service communities were made apprentices in their family occupations, be it crafts or agriculture. It was part of the socialization process for the children. This proposal intends to discuss the child labour practices and their apprenticeship issue in the handloom weavers’ communities of Eastern Uttar Pradesh during the first half of the twentieth century to explore two prevailing trends. The dominant form of training of labour was in the traditional informal apprenticeship system, usually confined to family and caste. In 1906 in Kopaganj qasba one man could earn six annas daily with the help of two children. The weft- yarn was used in a shuttle called dharki, which was thrown from side to side while weaving. Children in the household helped in the weaving process by throwing this shuttle while sitting beside the adult weaver on the loom. In the Doria system Children began by working on the spinning mill or by wrapping yarn. Once they developed this skill they were allowed to become assistant weavers and they became skilled weavers in their late teen age. In a 1921 a Memorandum by E.B. Havell observed ‘government must try to reach fathers and uncles… rather than take their sons and nephews away from them’. Gradual shift from house- hold production to shop-floor wage Karkhana meant encouraging transformation from familial apprenticeship to forms of child labour. A practical difficulty in obtaining boys for the Government weaving classes was the high premium given in the form of advance to the boys’ parents paid by weavers in Benaras to secure boys for their factories. The child became, in a sense, a commodity, exchanged between his or her parents and the employer. The employers used the loan to secure indefinitely the cheapest form of possible labour.

Weavers throughout the period of study and beyond faces barriers to upward mobility and their children remained in their socio-cultural straitjacket with no aspirations beyond that of the weaver, or the occupational category they were born into. The rigid caste system tacitly encouraged low and scheduled-caste parents to send their children to work at an early age. In the Handloom industry the weavers and the loom owners were at the bottom of the hierarchy, they were paid the least and their work was the most monotonous. The source of exploitation was the unequal contractual relationship between the contractors and the loom owners.

This proposal on child labour’s interaction with new technology of improved hand looms and power looms could reshape intellectual understanding about the different experiences of industrialisation by labouring communities in various different settings, particularly in a human context. At times the experiences of change comes out of the representations that workers have of themselves and which they wish to convey to others simultaneously contesting or seeking to change the images which others have of them. Portrayal of the workers by the state and the market dominates the narrative but this dominance only ensures the clash and recasting of the images of ‘self’ and ‘others’.

Hamstrung by Definitional Obscurity and Imprecise Indicators: Why Social assistance is Unable to Tackle Harmful Children’s Work

Rachel Sabates-Wheeler, Keetie Roelen, Rebecca Mitchell, Amy Warmington

Institute of Development Studies, United Kingdom

In 2017, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated that 152 million children across the world were in child labour, 75 million of whom are said to work in conditions or circumstances that are hazardous. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have made the eradication of such work a policy priority and have given renewed impetus to efforts tackling children’s engagement with harmful work. Historically most policy responses to child work have been punitive in nature, such as taking the child into care, insisting the child no longer works, or punishing the firm or family by removing work contracts. However, such an abolitionist stance without taking adequate account of wider socioeconomic constraints or complex realities within which children and families make choices about engagement with work has rendered policy efforts largely ineffective. This has given rise to alternative and more supportive policy initiatives, including social assistance. A widening evidence base suggests that social assistance has the potential to reduce children’s engagement with work. However, little evidence is available about the impact on children’s engagement with harmful types of work.

In this paper, we argue that social assistance is currently ill-equipped to tackle harmful children’s work. Based on a comprehensive review of evaluations of social assistance schemes across low and middle-income countries (LMICs), we find a lack of engagement with the nuanced role of work in children’s and families’ lives as theories of change underpinning such interventions often rendering any work as undesirable. Few studies look beyond prevalence or intensity of work or take account of working conditions. This results in a large knowledge gap about the extent to which and how social assistance may reduce harmful children’s work. We propose an alternative way of understanding benefits and harms of work and position social assistance as one of multiple policy levers to reduce children’s engagement with harmful work. Situating work within the work-school-home nexus and reflecting on work within hazard-, harm- and benefit- scapes allows for a more nuanced understanding of children’s engagement with work, for critical reflection on the balance between risks and benefits associated with work, and for positioning social assistance as a ‘home’-oriented policy mechanism alongside ‘work’-situated interventions such as legislation and monitoring and ‘school’-focused schemes such as improving quality of education.

Managing The ‘Troubled’ Labour: Discourses On Child labour In British India, 1880s-1930s

Shreya Kundu

Ashoka University, India

In 1926 a child labourer at a public meeting in Calcutta complained to the British trade-unionists that he had lost a forefinger in a mill accident, but had got no compensation, and had been refused re-employment after his hand had healed. Upon inquiry it was discovered that the boy’s name did not appear in the list of employees. Once an employer discovered a woman worker occupied in sewing jute sacks together with her infant, both scantily clothed, and both marked all over with distinctive spots of small-pox. At a signal from the European mill manager, both were dismissed from the factory premise to avoid any “great scandal”. Both these incidents occurred in jute manufacturing factories in colonial Calcutta. How might we interpret the systemic violation of child rights under an administration claiming to have established a ‘welfare state’ in an era informed by humanitarian movements, social protectionist reforms and international demands for children’s rights? How did the colonial government and its various stakeholders view the ‘management’ of child labour? This paper seeks to answer these questions through case studies from Bengal, Bombay, and Madras Presidency from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. The decades 1880s and 1930s bookend this project as this half-century was marked by a large number of migrant rural children joining the floating labour of the factory-workshop system. From 1930 onwards, there was a steady decline in recruiting children owing to legislative regulations, technological advancements and ideological-moral shifts in the period. A focus on this period enables an examination of the category of ‘child’ as an active economic agent and the value and meaning of their labour.

The first section examines the theories, paradigms, methods and practices of the colonial state in designing policies for the labouring children. The protectionist measures for labouring children did not emanate from the normative concept of labour welfarism which generally had a humanitarian approach creating possible circumstances for the worker’s well-being. Rather, labouring children’s welfarism was largely shaped by the colonial state’s perception on the social category of the ‘poor child’. The global ontological narrative of ‘child at risk’ provided the sentimentalized space to make children’s protection a public narrative filtered through institutions like family, schooling and public policy. The language of risk made the child labour a troublesome issue and administratively tricky one that hindered ‘good governance’ and made economic productivity 'inefficient'. While the middle-class ‘native’ children were subject to human capital development project in the paradigm of colonial modernity, the labouring children came under serious scrutiny, disciplinary mechanism and unfettered models of the state’s repressive measures, and constituted the new class of ‘factory-citizens’. Second, the paper undertakes a discussion on the emergence of the global debates on child labour in India and its coalescence with contemporary politico-humanitarian movements like anti-slavery campaigns, feminist movements and worker’s rights movements. In doing so, it explores the nature of child rights movement in India. The final section examines how the non-governmental actors like social reformers, trade-unionists and nationalist leaders had formed a pressure-group that compelled the government to rethink the recruitment of the children in factories.The state brought insitutional changes in the factory-education system to produce ‘literate subjects’ and the social reformers focused on producing Protestant work-ethic amongst the working children. The journal for the labourers like Bharat Shramajeebee saw working-class education as the most fecund way to promote class-consciouness amongst the workers. Along this line, the research argues whether in this skill-building programme the identity as a worker transcended the child’s identity as a learner.

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