Indmedica Home | About Indmedica | Medical Jobs | Advertise On Indmedica
Search Indmedica Web
Indmedica - India's premier medical portal

Indian Journal of Community Medicine

Some Socio-Economic Determinants and Working Environmental Conditions of Child Labourers in a Slum Area of Kolkata

Author(s): Sarmila Malik, Biswajit Biswas, Shyama Prasad Mitra, Ramendra Narayana Chaudhury*

Vol. 27, No. 4 (2002-10 - 2002-12)

Deptt. of Community Medicine, Medical College, Kolkata *Deptt. of Occupational Health, All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health, Kolkata

Abstract:

Research questions: What are the socio-economic determinants behind the child labour? What are the working environmental conditions of child labourers engaged in different occupations in a slum area of Kolkata?

Objectives: To study some socio-economic determinants of child labour. To assess the working conditions and environment of child labourers.

Study design: Cross-sectional.

Participants: 150 child labourers engaged in different occupations.

Setting: A slum area of Kolkata.

Results: 17.3% of child labourers were not paid any wages, 66% had to work more than 6 hours a day, 16.7% did not get any rest during work, 18% had to work totally exposed to sun and rain and only 54.7% were enjoying a weekly holiday. Poverty and parental illiteracy were found to be the main reasons behind their working.

Keywords: Child labourers, Working conditions, Working environment

Introduction:

Human development report of UNDP1 states that working children in India make up more than 10% of labour force, which is much greater than the world average of 6%. According to ILO report (1979)1, as many as one third of rural children and one eighth of urban children aged between 10-14 years are at work in India. Child labour contributes to 20% of India's GNP1 and mostly operates in the unorganized, informal and unregulated sectors of the economy and is not being adequately reported in official labour statistics. Undoubtedly, most powerful force driving children into labour is exploitation of poverty. Other reasons are found to be low level of adult literacy, population explosion, large family, miserable condition of primary education leading to high school drop-outs, lack of social security and lack of status of child in the society. These child workers are engaged in various types of working situations in unorganized urban sectors like daily wage casual labourers in small factories and workshops, miscellaneous trades, domestic services, workers bound as apprentices to artisans or self employed workers engaged in various street works. They have to work in an unkind, uncomfortable and often physically hazardous environment for long hours of the day without rest. They are ill paid and conditions of work are often exploitative.

Material and Methods:

The study was a cross-sectional one conducted from September to November, 1996 and it was carried out in the urban field practice area of All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Kolkata. According to 1991 census, 25%2 of the total population were children of 5-14 years of age group and in Kolkata metro area, 2.4%3 of them were child labourers. Total estimated population in the study area was 1,04,0004. Based on the above information, total number of child labourers were 624 in the study area. 20% of them i.e. 125 was considered as the minimum sample size required for the study. In the study area, child labourers were mainly concentrated in seven lanes, from each of which 18 child labourers were to be selected randomly. But ultimately during conducting the study, data from 150 child workers were collected. So the final sample size came out to be 150. Study group was selected based on definition given by Operation Research Group, Baroda5 i.e. children of 5-14 years, full term workers and must be on remunerative work (paid or unpaid).

Child workers were interviewed in their work places to assess their socio-economic status, their working conditions viz remuneration, working hours, rest, type of leave etc. The employers or the adult workers were also interviewed to judge the validity of information given by the child workers.

The environment at the working places like type of construction, ventillation, lighting, were assessed by direct observation. Ventillation was considered adequate if at least two windows of adequate size were present in the construction. Adequate lighting was considered by assessing the natural light at the center of the work place. Availability of drinking water and latrine facility exclusive to the work place were considered as present. Overcrowding was considered based on per capita availability of cubic space of 500 cuft as recommended by the Indian Factory Act.

Observations:

Profile of child labourers:

150 child labourers were included in the study. 70% of them were males and 72% were Hindu. Most of them (92.7%) belonged to the age group of 10-14 years. Average age of child labourers was found to be 12.2 years. The present study revealed that 60.7% of the working children were almost illiterate, 33.3% had received some form of primary education and 6% had gone up to middle school.

Age of starting work and birth order:

In the present study, 45.3% of the working children started work between 11-13 years and 54.7% below 10 years. Mean age of starting work was found to be 9.8 and mean birth order was 1.7 indicating more burden of family on lower birth orders. But the most interesting finding that is to be noted was higher birth orders had started work very early in life than lower birth orders. Mean age of starting work had a declining trend with increasing birth orders.*

Socio-economic status:

Table I: Some socio-economic determinants of child labourers.

Determinants Child labourers
(n=150)
.
No (%)
Socio-economic status
Social class V 65 (43.4)
Social class IV 68 (45.4)
Social class III 13 (8.6)
Social class II 4 (2.6)
Type of family
Nuclear 128 (85.3)
Joint 22 (14.7)
No of family members
<5 79 (52.7)
6-8 59 (39.3)
>9 12 (8)
Parental literacy
Father illiterate 84 (56.0)
Mother illiterate 120 (80.0)
Migrants (n=76)
From adjacent districts 60 (79)
Bihar 14 (18.4)
Bangladesh 2 (2.6)
Total 76 (50.7)
Parental abandonment
Both parents alive 123 (82)
Both parents dead 3 (2)
Father dead/left 19 (12.7)
Mother dead/left 5 (3.3)

Figures in parentheses indicate percentages.

Socio-economic status of the study group was categorized based on Prasad's6 modification of per capita income according to All India Consumer Price Index (AICPI), 96. It was revealed that majority of the child labourers belonged to social class IV and V (Table I).

Family background:

Parental illiteracy was found to be an important cause behind child labourer. The present study observed that 56% of fathers and 80% of mothers were illiterate (Table I). But parental abandonment was not found as much important in the present study. 12.7% had lost their father, 3.3% mothers and 2% both parents (Table I). Another important factor forcing the children into labour is considered as large families. But in the present study, 85.3% of the child workers had originated from nuclear families with mean size of family being 5.7 (Table I).

Migration:

Different studies in metro cities had shown that 80% of the working children were recent migrants and had considered migration to be an important factor for child labour. In the present study, 50.7% of the study group were found to be recent migrants, out of which 19.4% had migrated alone and 31.3% with families (Table I).

Employment situations:

The present study revealed that 42.7% of the child labourers worked in the garage, 24% were domestic helpers, 14.7% were rag-pickers, 6% worked in hotels and tea-stalls, 6.6% were doing miscellaneous activities like hawking, washing cars and van-pulling. None of the child was engaged in so called hazardous occupations as described by the Indian Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986. Child labourers working in garages, hotels and shops were all males. Domestic helpers were all females. Rag-pickers had equal sex distribution.

Working conditions:

Table II: Child labourers according to Remuneration per month.

Remuneration per month (Rs.)
Occupation Nil <100 101-300 301-500 >500 Total
Garage workers 12 (18.7) 29 (45.3) 20 (31.2)   3 (4.7) 64 (100.0)
Domestic helpers 3 (8.3) 9 (25) 19 (52.8) 4 (9.1) 1 (2.8) 36 (100.0)
Rag-pickers 5 (22.7) 4 (18.2) 9 (40.9) 2 (9.1) 2 (9.1) 22 (100.0)
Hotel boys 4 (44.4) 3 (33.3) 2 (22.2) -   -   9 (100.0)
Shop helper -   -   6 (66.7) 1 (11.0) 2 (22.2) 9 (100.0)
Other 2 (20) 1 (10) 6 (60) -   1 (10) 10 (100.0)
Total 26 (17.3) 46 (30.7) 62 (41.3) 7 (4.7) 9 (6) 150 (100.0)

Figures in parentheses indicate percentages.

17.3% of child workers were not paid any wages and 30.7% were paid Rs. 100 or less per month. Average remuneration of a child labourer was found to be Rs. 164.30 per month in the present study. Average remuneration of a garage worker was Rs. 117 per month but domestic helpers and rag-pickers had better averages of Rs. 201.55 and Rs. 205 respectively.

Majority (77.4%) of working children spent almost whole of their income to support their family. Inspite of spending a bulk of their income to support their family, 43.3% of working children could contribute only 10% of their family income and 23% contributed 11-30%.*

Table III: Type of occupation and working hours.

Occupation Working hours
<6 7-10 >10 Total
Garage worker 4 (6.2) 35 (54.7) 25 (39) 64 (100)
Domestic helpers 20 (55.6) 8 (22.2) 8 (22.2)   (100)
Rag-pickers 17 (77.3) 5 (22.7) - - 22 (100)
Hotel boys - - - - 9 (100) 9 (100)
Shop helpers 2 (22.2) 6 (66.7) 1 (11.1) 9 (100)
Others 8 (80) 2 (20) - - 10 (100)
Total 51 (34) 56 (37.3) 43 (28.7) 150 (100)

Figures in parentheses indicate percentages.

Indian Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 had recommended that the child workers would work for maximum 6 hours a day with 1 hour rest after 3 hours of work and they would get one weekly holiday. Table III shows that 66% of the child workers had to work for more than 6 hours a day. The present study observed their average duration of work as 6.53 days per week. Mean working hours were found as 8.4 hours a day for child workers as a whole, 10.23 for garage workers, 6.58 for domestic helpers and 4.52 hours for rag-pickers.

This study also observed that 16.7% of the working children did not get any rest and 15.3% got one hour rest after 3 hours of continuous work as per recommendation. 12% did not get any leave, 33.3% got leave only when they were sick and 54.7% of working children were enjoying a weekly holiday. Garage workers enjoyed weekly holidays more than domestic helpers and rag-pickers.

38% did not get any incentives in the present study, but 34% got clothing (mainly garage and domestic helpers), 45.3% received food (hotel, domestic helpers and few garage workers), 16.7% received tips (mainly garage), 3.4% got overtime and only 6.7% received bonus. In this regard, domestic helpers were less exploited than other categories.

Financial support in medical care was only available to 49.3% of child workers who mainly belonged to the category of garage workers. But the present study observed that 76% of working children were quite satisfied with their working conditions. Only 8% complained of ill treatment by the employers, 2% found the job hazardous, 8.7% felt tired during work, 3.4% considered the remuneration as very low. 1.4% of child workers felt ashamed for their work who were mainly the rag-pickers.

Working environment:

The present study revealed that 18% of the working children worked totally exposed to sun and rain, 11.3% had to work partly under open air, 20% in ill-ventillated working places and 17.3% in inadequate light. 69.3% had no drinking water and 65.3% had no latrine facility at their working place and 62.2% had both facilities absent. It was also seen that 40% of the working children were exposed to over-crowding and 40% to poor housekeeping.

Discussion:

Present study of 150 child labourers revealed that most of them belonged to the age group of 10-14 years. Similar findings were observed by Banerjee SR7 and IPER8 at Kolkata. Average age of child labourers was found to be 12.2, compared to 12.9 found by Nath and Majumder9 in Kolkata and 12 by D.K. Lal Das10 in Visakhapattanam. Mean age of starting work was found to be 9.8 and mean birth order was 1.7. These were found respectively as 9.8 and 3.1 by Nath and Majumder9.

The present study observed the poor educational status among the child workers. This finding was also corresponding with IPER8 in Kolkata. But 18% of the children had never attended school, which was quite less than as found by Nath and Majumder9 (44.8%) and Banerjee7 (56%).

Considering the different parental factors behind child labour, Banerjee SR7 found in Kolkata that 82.7% of fathers and 93.9% of mothers of working children were illiterate, whereas, Kanungo11 in Bhubaneswar found it to be 75% and 100% respectively. The present study observed it as 56% and 80% respectively. But parental abandonment has not been found as much important in the present study.

In the present study, 85.3% of the child workers had originated from nuclear families with mean size of family being 5.7. Similar findings were shown by D.K. Lal Das10 et al and Kanungo11. But Pati and Swain12 observed the family members varying from 4-6 in 52% and 7-9 in 28.8% cases of child labourers.

Mehta M13 in Mumbai and the present study had similar findings that about half of the child workers were migrants. But Sinha14 in Kolkata observed only 2.63% of the working children as natives of the city, possibly due to the business and office area he had selected for his study.

When considering the remuneration of the child workers, it was evident from the present study that 17.3% were not paid any wages and 30.7% were paid Rs. 100 or less per month. Same findings were shown by Pati and Swain12 in Bhubaneswer, whereas, Mehta13 and Singh15 found greater exploitation in Mumbai slums.

Average remuneration of a child labourer was observed as Rs. 164.30 per month in the present study, whereas, Nath and Majumder9 in Kolkata found it as Rs. 172 per month. Labour Commissioner of West Bengal16 had shown the average earning of a garage worker as Rs. 111.90 per month, which the present study observed as Rs. 117 per month. Pati and Swain12 and Nath and Majumder9 had similarly found that working children spent almost whole of their income to support their family. Inspite of spending a bulk of their income to support their family, the present study found that 43.3% of working children could contribute only 10% of their family income. This figure was also corresponding to the data (14%) given by Indian Council of Child Welfare, New Delhi14.

In the present study, 66% of the child workers had to work for more than 6 hours a day, which was found as 97% and 90% respectively by Pati and Swain12 and Mehta13 respectively. Nath and Majumder9 observed the average duration of work as 6.8 days a week, whereas, the present study found it as 6.53 days per week. This study also observed that 16.7% of the working children did not get any rest during work, whereas, Sinha14, found no rest period for 38% of child workers in Kolkata. Again, Das10 et al in Visakhapattnam and Nath and Majumder9 observed no holiday for 79% of workers and Sinha14 found in Kolkata that very few children had received incentives from their employers, but the exploitation seemed to be quite less in the present study. Here financial support in medical care was only available to 49.3% of child workers. Nath and Majumder9 and IPER8 in Kolkata had similar observations. But contrary to the findings of Pati and Swain12, the present study observed that 76% of working children were quite satisfied with their working conditions.

The present study revealed the deplorable working environment of the children where 18% had to work totally exposed to sun and rain and 11.3% had to work partly under open air. Many of them worked in ill ventillated working places with inadequate light and no drinking water and latrine facility. Similar findings were shown by Singh15 et al in Mumbai, whereas, IPER8 had shown worse findings in Kolkata.

Conclusion and Recommendations:

It is now being accepted that child labour can not be totally eradicated by legislation alone, unless supplemented by socio-economic and educational upliftment of the under-privileged section of the society. So early implementation of the Child labour law with appointment of more inspectors to detect violation of the law especially concerning working hours, rest period, holiday and to supervise the working environment are absolutely necessary. Implementation of minimum wage structure for them can also be recommended, besides personal protective devices for the rag-pickers like chappals, gloves and polythene sheets at the time of monsoon.

References:

  1. Ruikar Manisha. Child Labour in India: Problems and Solutions. Ind J of Occupational and Env Medicine 1998; 2(1): 45.
  2. Park K. Textbook of Preventive and Social Medicine, 16th Ed (2000), publ. Banarsidas Bhanot, Jabalpur, 322.
  3. Directorate of Census Operations, West Bengal, Census of India, 1991, Series 26 - West Bengal, Part III-B series, Economic tables, 78.
  4. Department of Statistics, Urban Health Centre, Chetla under All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Kolkata.
  5. Khatu KK. Working children in India. Operation Research Group, Baroda, 1983.
  6. Kumar P. Social classification - Need for constant updating, Ind J of Comm Med 1993; 18(2): 60-1.
  7. Banerjee SR. Study of child labour in suburban areas of Calcutta, Paper submitted in workshop on child labour organized by Indian Academy of Pediatrics in Kolkata 1989: 43-8.
  8. IPER (Institute for Psychological and Educational Research), Humanising Child Labour: A Report on the IPER Project on Child Labour in India, Ed A. Ghosh, 1985.
  9. Nath P, Majumder K. Working Children in India In: Rehabilitation of Child Labourers in India, Ed. R.N. Pati, New Delhi, 1991: 165-9.
  10. Das DK Lal, Chandrasekhar SF. Child worker: an analysis of their terms of employment. Ind J of Social Work, Jan 1992; L-III(1): 29-37.
  11. Kanungo J. The young girls helping in our household works In: Rehabilitation of Child Labourers in India, Ed R.N. Pati, New Delhi 1991: 218-38.
  12. Pati RN, Swain SN. Child labourers in Bhubaneswar city In: Rehabilitation of Child Labourers in India, Ed. R. N Pati, New Delhi 1991; 121-32.
  13. Mehta M. Physical health problems of working children In: Child Labour and Health: Problems and Prospects, Ed Usha Naidu, Mumbai 1985: 138-49.
  14. Sinha S. Child labour in Calcutta: A sociological study, Naya Prokash, Kolkata, 1991: 17-20.
  15. Singh M, Kaura VD, Khan SA. Working children in Bombay: A study, National Institute of Public Co-operation and Child Development, New Delhi 1980.
  16. Approach Paper, Workshop on Child Labour under National Child Labour Project in 24 Parganas (N), Society for the Welfare of Child Labour of 24 Parganas (N), West Bengal 13th Jan 1996, 24-35.
Access free medical resources from Wiley-Blackwell now!

About Indmedica - Conditions of Usage - Advertise On Indmedica - Contact Us

Copyright © 2005 Indmedica