Child Labour

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Rekha Wazir*

The involvement of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in child labour is fairly recent but it is steadily growing in momentum. However, only a few NGOs have succeeded in achieving recognition in this field at the national level. This paper starts by reviewing a number of inter-linked background factors that circumscribe and curtail the activities of NGOs. This is followed by an analysis of the strategies that NGOs use in addressing child labour. The final section addresses the question whether NGO interventions add up to a strategy for eliminating child labour. In order to be effective, NGO strategies would have to stand up to scrutiny on three counts: the individual components of the programme would need to be integrated in a holistic manner and it would take account of the dimensions of scale and sustainability. It is argued that with a few notable exceptions the majority of NGOs would find it difficult to score on all these fronts.


In developing economies, attention to the issue of child labour – whether at the level of policy, research or interventions – is fairly recent. The involvement of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in this sector is about a decade old but it has been steadily gaining momentum, partly on account of the availability of funding for child labour programmes. However, only a handful of NGOs has achieved recognition in this field at the national level. The number of organisations that have succeeded in demonstrating a sustainable and wide scale reduction in the incidence of child labour is even smaller. Estimates of child labour in the 5-14 age group vary according to the definition of child labour used by the agency compiling the statistics. While recent statistics indicate some reduction in the overall incidence of child labour, the numbers are still alarmingly large. Given the scale of the problem, the question arises: can NGO interventions add up to a strategy for eliminating child labour?

This paper will review a number of inter-linked dimensions, starting with the macro context that forms the backdrop against which NGOs develop their strategies. Although NGO interventions are generally designed for the micro, local level, their success in this arena is influenced by a variety of background, overarching considerations ranging from the buoyancy of the economy to the availability of resources and the prevailing legal and institutional frameworks. These factors are largely outside the direct control of NGOs but they both circumscribe and constrain their activities. The following section will highlight some key aspects of the macro dimension, followed by an analysis of the specific strategies that NGOs follow in addressing the issue of child labour. Examples will be taken from across the field to illustrate the wide range of approaches that exist at present. The final section will address the question raised at the start of this paper.


1.The Institutional Framework

The Constitution of India provides a sound framework for tackling the issue of child labour when it states that ‘No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment’ (Article 14). It further directs state policy to ensure that ‘… the health and strength of workers … and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter a vocation unsuited to their age or strength’ (Article 39e). However, this positive environment has not been converted into an adequate legal or institutional framework for eliminating child labour. Government legislation on child labour is piecemeal and does not reflect the dimensions of the problem nor a determination to deal with it. The focus is mainly on prohibiting the most hazardous forms of labour and on regulating conditions of...
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