York Union: Slumdog Millions: Child Labour, Charity and India

Image: York Union

Image: York Union

On the 17th November, the fourth debate in a series of debates organized by York Union this term, focused on the problem of the child labour in India.

The presenter of this topic was Mr. Richard Garland, the founder of the charity Project MALA, started the discussion by outlining the central premise of his work- the right approach to combat the problem of child labour in India is by creating schools and promoting a greater education among children. This approach is justified not only because it helps children to receive the education they rightfully deserve, but also because it has a specific practical use; in the words of Mr. Garland, “Children cannot be in two places at once-they are either working or they are studying in school”.

Mr. Garland then argued that persistence of the child labour can only be explained through examining the interplay of different factors at international, psychological and local levels. Internationally, while the awareness of the question had certainly increased over the last two and a half decade, the problem is that the problem of the child labour often gets lost within the wider range of problems of our global age. In Mr. Garland’s view, the implication of this problem is often exacerbated by the positive, yet limited role of the international media: while the media is helpful at illustrating the scale of the problem through the “special investigation”, it is not successful at proposing solutions or measures to address the problem. Thus, the problem of the child labour is characterized by an intellectual vacuum-while the international community knows that problem exist at the serious scale, it is not proposing any solution is to it.

This factor is often combined with the psychological problem of the dominant self-interested attitude towards the resolution of the problem. As Mr. Garland rightfully highlighted, once people hear about the child labour, they instantly develop a strong emotional stance, often highlighting that we as individuals have to do something to prevent it from happening again. In his view, most often this position is expressed by calls to ban the child labour from the work of international corporations. While Mr. Garland had agreed that child labour is a moral wrong and there is a need of certain response to the problem, he argued that our approach to the problem is characterized by moral misconceptions. In his view, truly inclusive and helpful approach need to consider the issue of the child labour as a morally unjust behaviour committed to the each individual child.

Simply put, we need to show compassion to each individual child by offering the help required, rather than thinking what we as people can do in order to lift the responsibility for the suffering of that child from our shoulders.

Mr. Garland further noted that child labour cannot be banned completely in India due to a range of ethical and cultural beliefs at the local levels. Some of these beliefs-for instance, that the oldest male child in poor family must work notwithstanding his age-are always important to consider during the process of examination of the problems with child labour in India. These local beliefs, coupled with problems in law implementation in India and the intensification of poverty, which almost forces the child to be involved in labour practices, means that banning child labour completely is both politically undesirable and politically impossible.

This allowed Mr. Garland return to his starting and central point of the talk: unless we offer a professional and engaging education to the children in India, unless we put our collective efforts in improving the state education system, unless we explain to the parents that education is an integral part of the child’s life, well-being and future, the problematic international stance on the issue of child labour is likely to continue and the problem of child labour is likely to persist in future.


Anatolie also interviewed Robin Garland before the event you can read his interview here.

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