ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Labour of Children

Children’s Lifeworlds: Gender,
Welfare and Labour in the
Developing World
by Olga
Nieuwenhuys;
Social Science Press, New Delhi,
1999;
pp 228, Rs 425 (hardback).

This book challenges conventional defi-nitions about child labour. Conventional wisdom has it that children’s work when supervised by parents or when labelled as training, help or socialisation is morally neutral. Conversely, children’s work, which is harmful is necessarily performed outside of familial supervision and therefore by definition harmful labour. In what ways and to what extent do these social constructs of children’s work help define, express and maintain the present status quo in contemporary governmental and bureaucratic approaches to child labour? This is the main question that Olga Nieuwenhuys tries to answer in her study of children’s work among fishing and coir-making people in Kerala.

The study is evidently borne out of the author’s keen awareness of the marked difference in terms of what is defined as work between the labour of men and women, the adult and child and finally the male and female child. Let me first briefly summarise some substantive details about the book. The book begins with the insistence that the categories of ‘work’ and ‘working children’ need to be reconceptualised in view of children’s working experiences as well as their contributions to the economy. To this end, a series of observations about children and work follows: children do work outside the home; more children are concentrated in the ‘unproductive’ spheres of work and hence, are at best poorly paid and commonly unrecognised; despite the overwhelming contribution of children in productive, domestic and other economic activities, inequalities in terms of age and gender continue to persist both at the household and policy levels. Additionally, a great deal of work that children do – for example, household work, child care, running errands – is not treated as real work and thus, remains unnoticed, unappreciated and, most importantly, unpaid. Thus, the need to recognise all kinds of work that children are engaged in – both within and outside the home. Most importantly, the author calls for first revisit-ing and subsequently treating children’s work on par with adult labour such that children enjoy better social and economic status.

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