The Child and the State in India: Child Labour and Education Policy in Comparative Perspective, by Myron Weiner. Oxford University Press, pp. 211,1*8.90.
Born to Work: Child Labour in 'India, by Neera Burra. Oxford University Press, pp. 285, Rs. 395.
No country in the world has proved more talented than India in producing people who cannot read or write: by the year 2000, our nation will contribute 50 per cent or more of the world's illiterate population. Nor can any country compare with our ability to extract labour from our children: our estimated 44 million child labourers (and this figure is almost certainly an underestimate) set us right at the top of the international league.
What explains this scandalous reality? Is it all simply a matter of poverty, of lack of resources? And if it actually matters that half our people—a much higher proportion in the case of women are illiterate, that roughly half our children are out working when they should be in school, why have we proved so incapable of doing anything about it?
In the late 1980s, Myron Weiner, an internationally renowned American political scientist based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), began investigation why child labour is so prevalent, so entrenched in India. He brought to his research the sensitivity and insights acquired during his more than forty years of studying Indian society.
As Weiner travelled about India, interviewing employers and parents, trade unionists and social activists, government officials and policy makers, teachers and also working children themselves, he found he was looking at the problem from the wrong end. The essential question, he found, was not why so many children were working, but why so many children were not at school.
Weiner soon discovered the shocking explanation: India, among a handful of countries in the world, has no system of compulsory education. No Indian child is required by law to attend school for a
Social Scientist, Vol. 24, Nos. 1-3, January-March 1996