Do Indian parents not care about their children?

Amit Varma on child labor:

Working children are all around us: at the office canteen, the Udupi restaurant, the neighbourhood grocer’s, the traffic signal. It is so ubiquitous that most of us don’t even notice it when we shout, “Chhotu, ek chai la.” Nobody in his right mind can condone it—there are few thefts as appalling as that of someone’s childhood.

For the sake of these children, I have a request to make to the activists and journalists behind all these recent exposés: six months from now, in May 2008, do a follow-up on all these kids who have been ‘rescued’ and tell us how they’re doing. Are they going to school? Are they having a normal, happy childhood? Indeed, tell us in just one word: are they better off?

My guess is that most of the kids will be employed in similar jobs—or worse. There are studies to back my fears. Oxfam once reported on a situation in Bangladesh where international outrage forced factories to lay off 30,000 child workers. Many of those kids starved to death; many became prostitutes. A 1995 Unicef study described how an international boycott of carpets made in Nepal using child labour led to between 5,000 and 7,000 Nepali girls turning to prostitution because a better option was now denied to them.

It is common sense that if these kids could have a better life, their parents would make sure they got it. Parents in poor countries are no different from parents in rich ones. They want their children to be free from the cares of the world, to go to school, to not have to worry about their next meal. Like all other parents, they must be tormented by the thought of their child having to sweat it out for a living. Why do they make their child work then? Because poverty leaves them with no other choice.

In a 1997 paper titled The Economics of Child Labor, Kaushik Basu and Pham Hoang Van showed that “child labour as a mass phenomenon occurs not because of parental selfishness but because of the parents’ concern for the household’s survival”. Basu and Van set out the Luxury Axiom: “A family will send the children to the labour market only if the family’s income from non-child-labour sources drops very low.” This is why, they stated, “the children of the non-poor seldom work even in very poor countries… In other words, children’s leisure or, more precisely, non-work is a luxury good in the household’s consumption in the sense that a poor household cannot afford to consume this good, but it does so as soon as the household income rises sufficiently.”

This is how I've thought of child labor: a phenomenon of underdevloped economies. Economic maturity brings about its end.

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"Poverty" is the norm

We've only recently, and unexpectedly, managed to get this rich. Extreme material poverty is the norm relative to our ancestral environment, and was presumably not thought of as poverty but simply as life. Thus I must question language that takes wealth as the norm and poverty as abnormal. For example:

"Like all other parents, they must be tormented by the thought of their child having to sweat it out for a living."

Parental instincts were formed in the ancestral environment, so do not necessarily include sentiments which make no sense outside of the recent rise of wealth. I am not denying that rich parents indulge their children by supporting them until they are 22. Undeniably, we who live in rich societies have developed a certain sentimentality about children, and maybe those sentiments are even inevitable, recurring wherever people become rich. However, it seems questionable to assign sentiments that have arisen in the context of unprecedented luxury, to people who have not yet experienced that luxury.

And I'm not saying that only rich parents love their children, only that the universal parental love does not necessarily lead to the same specific conclusions (such as, possibly, that it is intolerable and "tormenting" to the parents for children to work) in poor societies as in rich societies.

Child labour

Apparently NZ is one of the few "advanced" countries without a law that bans "child labour".

So, it is possible for a child of 6 or 7 to obtain paid employment in such work as delivering advertising material to my letterbox, in exactly the same way as can a 70 y-o...

So, it is possible for a child to work unpaid on their parents farm under parental supervision, doing such tasks as helping in the milking shed or wool shed...

So, what?