A Reconsideration of Child Labor from the Perspectives of Multiple Stakeholders in Mysore, India
Committee ChairNichter, Mark
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractInternationalist perspectives towards child labor have been adopted in India by both the national government and NGOs. These perspectives conceptualize childhood as a protected period of life lasting until age 18. Education and play, but not work, are considered appropriate activities for children. Although poverty has been acknowledged as a contributing factor, the reason children work has also commonly been framed as one of ignorant or unprincipled parents exploiting their children and squandering their future. The solution, according to anti-child labor discourse, is universal primary education.This dissertation problematizes such conceptions regarding childhood, education, and child labor. Drawing on fifteen months of fieldwork in Mysore, Karnataka, I examine community attitudes towards childhood and highlight incongruencies between internationalist and local characterizations. I compare community stakeholders' and government perspectives concerning education and children's work, focusing on household decision-making. I demonstrate that low-income parents want their children to obtain a good education, and are willing to expend limited economic resources to achieve that vision. Frequently, however, their goal is stymied by characteristics of the Indian education system or household crises that limit the ability to spend on education and create a need for additional income that a working child can provide. I explore how decisions regarding sending a child to work are negotiated, the perceived appropriateness of different types of work with regard to age and gender, and local ideas about formal and informal apprenticeship. I also consider the degree to which children are active agents in education and work-related decision-making.An understanding of parental decision-making requires exploration of the relationship between cultural, social, and economic capital and child labor. Research data revealed that low-income parents commonly lack the social connections and economic capital needed to convert a child's educational achievement into gainful employment. This caused some parents to view occupational training from a young age as a more pragmatic means of insuring a child's future.Finally, this dissertation provides insights into the commonly ignored relationship between alcohol abuse and child labor. Alcohol abuse often has serious economic, health, and social impact in low-income households that results in children having to work.