The 'nowhere children' of India

Photo credit: © Women's Feature Service

This young Indian girl working in a glass factory is just one of India's many invisible child labourers.

Girls who work from home tend to be the most "invisible". Unlike boys, girls often do household chores in addition to fieldwork and often miss out on schooling. Around 60 per cent of India's girls over eight-years-old are unable to read or write. Research has proved that girls who go on to secondary education are much more likely to have smaller, healthier families, and are in a much better position to improve their living conditions.

Girls also work in large numbers in a range of industries, often in poor environmental conditions. They work in the gem polish trade in Jaipur, the coir industry in Kerala, the lock-making industry in Aligarh, the brassware industry in Moradabad, the zari (gold thread) embroidery industry of Varanasi. Of the 45,000 working children in the match industry in Tamil Nadu, approximately 90 per cent are girls under 14.

In stifling rooms in the slums of Nagpur, a city in eastern Mahrasthra, women and girls sit rolling agabattis (incense sticks) through the day to earn 5 Rupees (about 13 US cents or 7p) for 1000 pieces. In Sinnar, a cigarette producing area in central Maharashtra, women and girls roll beedis (leaf cigarettes) at home to earn Rs 30 (less then $1or less then 65p for 1,000 pieces).

In cities too, working girls remain "invisible". No one knows, for instance how many under-14 girls are domestic workers in Mumbai (Bombay). Patsy Khan, a social worker, believes the number could be 200,000. According to one study, at least 500,000 under-15 children in India are sex workers.

Estimates of the number of child labourers in India vary from 20 million to 100 million. However, with over 50 per cent of India's child population living in abject poverty, some researchers believe that at least half the child population of around 300 million works - part-time or full-time. But very few appear in official labour statistics.

The International Labour Organisation in one report called child workers the "nowhere children": a category of the child population, which is neither at school nor reported to be economically active.

Related links:

UNICEF (site on child labour)

Save the Children Fund (Save the Children's campaign against exploitative child labour)

International Labour Organisation (ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour - IPEC)

Anti-Slavery International (ASI's child labour site)

South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude

Child labourers speak out (BBC News On-line, 8th Sept 2003)

Children working in Sierra Leone mines (BBC News On-line, 28t Aug, 2003)h

Children swap silk work for school (BBC News On-line, 21st Aug, 2003)