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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

A Study of Child Labour Among School Children and Related Factors in Pondicherry

Author(s): T. Nivethida, G. Roy

Vol. 30, No. 1 (2005-03 - 2005-03)


Research question : What is the prevalence of child labour among school children in urban area of Pondicherry? What are the factors related to its prevalence.


  • To assess the percentage of child labourers among school children in Pondicherry and study the factors related to it.
  • To compare their academic performance in school with that of other children.

Study Design : Cross-sectional.

Setting: Four schools within urban area of Pondicherry. Participants : Students of Government schools studying in classes from 5th to 9th during the academic year 2001-02.

Sample Size : 1305.

Study variables: Age, Sex, class of study, type of work, Hours of work per day, weekly income, reason for working, attendance and total marks obtained in the previous academic year.

Statistical analysis : Chi-square test, proportions.

Result and Conclusion : One hundred and fifty students per 1000 students were engaged in work outside school hours. Girls start working earlier than boys. They also work for longer hours than boys. A quarter of the students especially boys work for more than 10 hours per day. Most girls work as domestic servants at homes. Percentage of attendance in not affected much upto class 8, but a drastic fall is noticed among students of class 9. The ratio of below average students among those working is only slightly higher than among the nonworking students.


In a country like India, where 32% of the population is below the poverty line child labour is deemed a necessity for augmenting the family income. Therefore poverty is a major determinant of such a practice. According to a 1996 report (ILO), the number if child labourers in India can be anywhere between 14 to 100 million1. In an attempt to eradicate child labour the government has advocated compulsory education for all children over the country. The objective of this policy was to eradicate child labour as far as possible. Such policies however have little impact because factors other than poverty compel children to work.

While all attention is paid to those children who are involved in manufacturing jobs, the fact that an equal or even larger number of them are engaged in agricultural and household related jobs remains largely ignored. Child domestic workers form the largest and most ignored group of child workers according to UNICEF's Innocenti digest2. Such jobs may not carry remuneration in cash and other benefits enjoyed by the organized sector. It therefore becomes difficult to cite an accurate figure for the magnitude of children engaged in work, as employers fail to report the truth during surveys for fear of prosecution. It can be safely presumed that a high proportion of children are engaged in paid work.

Community based studies among children are required to determine the prevalence of child labour and factors associated with it since the parents or the employee may not be forthcoming in their responses. The present study was therefore carried out to assess the percentage of child labourers among school children in Pondicherry, compare their performance in school with that of other children and gain knowledge about their contribution to the family's economic status.

Material and Methods

For the purpose of the study, four schools in Pondicherry were selected so as to include a fairly large number of children with comparable distribution of boys and girls in both regular and shift schools. Only those students studying in classes 5th to 9th were chosen for the study because children below class 5 would not be able to fill the questionnaire that was provided, prevalence of child labour was insignificant among children belonging to classes below 5, and children above class 9 were busy with their academic work and the teachers would be uncooperative.

After obtaining necessary permission to visit the schools from the Director of Education, Pondicherry, the Principal of the schools were met and permission sought for conducting the study. Visits were made to each of the class to collect the necessary data. Those children who worked were asked to fill a pre-tested semi-structured questionnaire. The questionnaire contained the identification details of the children, details about their jobs, their employers and their pay, and about their families and socio-econmic status.

The children filled the questionnaires themselves, with some guidance from the investigator in making them understand a few questions. The average marks obtained by the individuals during the previous academic year and attendance were obtained from school records. The data was analyzed for descriptive details and necessary statistical tests applied where required.


The four schools selected for the study registered a total of 1,305 children between classes 5 and 9, out of which 498 were boys and 807 were girls. There were a total of 196 students who said they worked outside school hours, with a prevalence of 150/1000 school children, of which 117 were boys (89.6/1000 school children) and 79 girls (60.5/1000 school children). While in most cases the age of the child matched the class in which they studied (class studying + 5 = age in years) in some children this did not hold true because of late enrolment or dropout followed by re-enrolment. Table I shows the break up of working boys and girls in various age groups. Girls start working at a younger age than boys by an average of 1 to 2 years. By the age of 15, however, a larger proportion of boys than girls are working. It was observed that roughly half of the boys go for work only on holidays (part-time basis). In contract 60% of girls work on all days irrespective of the school timings.

Age Group Boys Girls
  No. (%) No. (%)
9 - 10 - -    
11 - 12 11 9.4 9 11.4
13 - 14 59 50.4 33 41.8
15 - 16 41 35.0 19 24.1
17+ 6 5.1 15 18.9
Total 117   79  

It was also found that nearly half of the children (with almost equal distribution of boys and girls) works for less than 5 hours a day. A quarter of them (almost all boys) works for more than 10 hours a day. This is bound to have an adverse effect on the health and academic performance of these children.

Children are employed in homes, shops, workshops or companies. A large proportion of them work in shops (48%) and in homes (35%). More than 90% of those working in houses are girls but there is no girl working in workshops. Boys constitute only 10% those working in homes. On the other hand, 90% of those working in shops are boys. Almost an equal number of boys and girls are employed in small manufacturing companies.

The reason for working was also analyzed. One hundred and sixty seven (85.2%) of the children said they worked due to poverty in the family. Other reasons given were to help parents in their work or to learn the job. However, 167 (85%) of the children responded that they worked without being forced to do so. Among the 15% children who were compelled to work, 18 (9.7%) were compelled to work by their mothers. Arriving at the conclusion that mothers force children to work could be misleading. It is a general observation among people of the lower socio-economic strata that fathers show little interest how the household expenses are met. The mothers are given some amount of money to run the house on daily basis and it falls on them to make the money last.

Now there arises a question as to why should the children be sent to school rather than to full time jobs. The answer to this question is the midday meal programme and the Rajiv Gandhi break-fast scheme in Pondicherry. This is also made evident in the study in the form of a drastic fall in the attendance among students of class 9 who are not eligible under these schemes.

A majority (71.9%) of children said their employers were kind to them, while 5% of them were beaten and 13% of the children said their employers used abusive language on them. These responses are likely to be inaccurate because children were not convinced about the confidentiality of their responses. About half of the children feel that their study/play is affected by work while the other half deny it to be so. What was surprising was that the proportion of those who felt that working did not interfere with studies or play increased with higher classes.

While the average income of the working children was Rs. 62.00 per week (range 45-74), 118 (60%) of the children earned below this average amount. The average money donated to the family was Rs. 59.00 (range: 71-42). In the case of 35 children (17.8%) is was not possible to calculate their weekly earnings as these children were not paid in cash. They are either given food and old cloths or not given a salary at all since they only work to assist their parents. For instance several children worked along side their parents (mainly their fathers) at their jobs. It was their parents who got paid extra or left work early for the increase in work output. While it is difficult to exactly quantify the amount of contribution these children make, it is nonetheless clear that by way of free meals and cloths they do take some burden off the family expenses. Except in the 8th standard, the ratio of below average student among the working students is only slightly higher than among non-working students. This finding strengthens the working students assertion that working does not hamper their studies or play. There was not much difference between the attendance percentage of working and non working students upto class 8. But a drastic fall is noticed in the percentage of attendance among working students of class 9. This might imply that the midday meal and break fast schemes are quite effective in making up the attendance. It should be borne in mind that the present study was conducted among school children. The reported figures would certainly be higher if the study also included children who did not attend school which includes almost half of other children and at east two thirds of girls.


Abolishing child labour has to be a continuous process, which has to make sure that the problem is removed from its roots. Eradication of child labour is certainly a necessary exercise; however ignoring facts that lead to children being used as cheap labour and factors that help in continuation of the practice might undo all the efforts of the exercise. Not much can be done to improve the situation of child workers unless employers are involved.


  1. ILO, 1996; World Labour Report; Geneva
  2. 5th UNICEF Innocenti Digest. Innocenti Research Centre; 1999
  3. Child Labour in India by Taha Husein

Deptt. of Preventive and Social Medicine
J I P M E R, Pondicherry-605006

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