Monday, May 17, 2010

‘The fight against child labor must be rekindled’

The concern about child labor has waned over the last six or seven years, and “must be rekindled.” That’s the judgment of Kailash Satyarti of India, chair of the Global March against Child Labor, which he founded in 1998.

Satyarti expressed his views in an interview published on-line by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). Here are excerprts from his answers to questions by Samuel Grumlau.

The Global March site in 2006 estimated the number of child workers in India at 65,000,000. Does that figure still apply?

I think it has fallen. I do not trust the government statistics claiming that there are “only” 10,000,000 to 12,000,000 Indian children not attending school. The truth is that no one has clear statistics, but the number has fallen, perhaps by 15 to 20%. This is largely thanks to a rapid change in mentality among the Indian population. The middle classes now see child labor in a negative light. There is a sense of guilt, for example, if someone uses a child domestic. There are, of course, people who exploit children in the worst forms of child labor, included in the middle classes, but there has been a significant change.

There is also a growing demand for quality education. Even the poorest of the poor have started to realize the value of education. In the past, they thought that education only served career interests, but now they realize that it also contributes to their development, their personal fulfillment.

One factor contributing to this change is the remarkable development of the information and communication technologies sector over the last 10 to 15 years in India. Even the poorest villagers have a mobile phone, as does their relative working as a rickshaw puller in a faraway city. They can keep in almost daily contact whereas before, correspondence by mail would take weeks. A person working in Mumbai or Delhi can therefore keep in touch with his family, tell them what he sees, the changes in India and in the cities. Little by little, they come to realize that if their children were educated, they would have a better chance at prosperity and personal growth.

There have also been major political changes, with the rise to power of the Dalits, the lowest caste. Many members of the lower castes are ministers, and no party can afford to ignore the problems facing these castes. This rise has created new aspirations, a desire among the members of these castes to have the same lifestyle as other Indians, and education is the key to reaching this goal. As a result, more and more poor people, Dalits, are sending their children to the schools in the villages, including their daughters, who used to be the most discriminated against.

Is the impact of taking children out of work as strong and as rapid as expected on adult employment or pay?

Adults do benefit in terms of employment in the long run. The carpet industry offers a good example. Fifteen years back, at least a million children in South Asia were employed full time in this sector: at least 300 to 350,000 in India, at least 250 to 300,000 in Nepal, and almost 400,000 in Pakistan. Now, all the research on the subject sets the figure at below 300,000 in the three countries. So, 700,000 children have been taken out of this sector.

It is the result of the raids led by [non-governmental] organizations to free children, the existence of the RugMark label, the growing demand for education among the Indian population, and the government's efforts in favor of schooling, and so forth.

The World Cup is starting on 11 June in South Africa. Is the Global March holding a campaign on this subject, as it did previously?

Yes. One of the big problems is the employment of children in the manufacture of hundreds of products used during this event: clothing, souvenirs, nets, drinks, etc. We demand guarantees against the use of child labor in these sectors. All lot of attention was given during previous World Cups to the manufacture of the footballs used during the matches, and FIFA made a number of commitments, but that is not enough: although child labor may not be used in the production of the footballs used during big games, there are still children making the footballs sold thanks to all the fervor stirred up by events such as the World Cup.

(Read the new eight-page “Union View” report on the trade union fight against child labor at
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