Child Labor in India and Egypt

Child Labor in India and Egypt


This paper analyzes an existing social problem, child labor, in two countries: India and Egypt. It compares the extent of the problem between the countries, assesses the efforts by the governments and non-profit organizations to reduce child labor, and evaluates possible conditions of the child labor problem in the next ten years. Child labor, as defined in the literature about child labor, consists in the instances of when the children, who are 5 to 11 years old, perform one hour or more of economic activity, or more than 27 hours of work at home. In addition to the countries’ governments, the international organizations make the efforts to reduce this social problem, particularly the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labor Organization (ILO). The ILO states that child labor is the labor that is dangerous to children, that harms them and does not allow to continue schooling. Child labor is an important national and international issue, because children are supposed to enjoy their childhood and develop in physical and emotional ways. Also, child labor that hurts children perpetuates the difficult social and economic conditions in countries, and it is bad for a country’s future.

Choice of Countries

India and Egypt were selected for this paper. India is a country in South East Asia. It is a democracy, has many developed industries, and also has the developing country’s challenges including child labor. Egypt is located in North Africa and is a fast-changing country. Many media sources said that in 2011 there was a revolution that showed the government was brutal. Egypt is a difficult country, because the revolution there was recent. It has a new government now. In contrast, India has been a democracy for a long time. There are many organizations working there, and many research studies.

If during research it is determined that one country has different causes from another country, that lead to child labor, than the paper can conclude on possible common causes for the prevalence of child labor. This will allow to assess if the past efforts to deal with the child labor problem were sufficient or if the problem will remain in the next decade. Also, the industrialized countries such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia, purchase the manufactured goods from the countries like India. It is important to know that the children in these countries are not exploited when producing the clothes.


Importance of child labor to India and Egypt

India and Egypt are making efforts to reduce the child labor. First of all, they joined the UNICEF and the ILO and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They changed the outdated laws in their countries to meet the new international standards. Also, they have governmental and non-profit programs to combat child labor. Secondly, the politicians of these countries need to comply with the international laws as well as to know more about the condition of children there. For example, according to the ILO reports, children work many hours in India, but do not receive the same payments. At the same time, for example in the 80s, there were many children who worked illegally, including in hazardous jobs. In Egypt, child labor is part of poverty. Because many people there suffer from hunger also, addressing child labor means giving food to children as well.

The extent of the problem


According to the study by Mangla, the extent of the problem is defined differently by governmental and non-profit organizations. The largest estimate, by non-profits, is that about a hundred million children engage in labor. The ILP reports the number of working children to be 12.6 million, whereas the total number of children is 235 million. The 80 % of children work in agricultural jobs there, and the rest are in urban centers, in the industries such as carpet weaving. While India had laws that banished bounded labor, it has persisted—the bounded labor of children is a form of forced labor that exists in lower castes, the minorities and migrants.


According to an ILO survey, about 10.5% of labor force in Egypt are children, that is 1.6 million children. There are more boys than girls who are employed, with the majority of children working in the agriculture cotton industry, but also in domestic work and services that are non-economic rather than a profit activity. The rate of employment increases with age. The ILO report also says that the majority of children, or more than 50%, are unpaid workers who work for their family farm or enterprises such as weaving carpets. About 10 percent of children work for their families’ non-farm enterprises. While some of child labor leads to training of the children, many of the working children have work in unfavorable work conditions such as long hours of work, dangerous work, exposure to hazardous chemicals, fertilizers and other dangers. The ILO report found that about 7 % children work in non-favorable conditions in mining and construction and more than 1 percent are in dangerous occupations and work for long hours.

Factors that account for the problem


The study by Kurosaki et al. found that more girls that boys do work, in jobs such as domestic service, crops and lifestock. These authors’ findings include the following: the children work in market work, that work is gendered and elder girls are most likely to perform work, that the mother’s education impacts child’s work, and, if there are many people in a family, then the children work to provide money for the household. The education of mothers and poverty in the family are the identified major causes of the child labor.

The structural factors associated with the child labor, as suggested by the studies, are the economic context of the country, particularly poverty; and the social status of women as lower than that of men. These factors are related to the Indian society’s cultural system of castes, dowry, and inheritance system, governing the gender relations; and the outdated governmental policies that do not make sure that children have a primary education, for example, 31 percent of children neither work nor attend school.


The ILO study found that there are social factors that lead to child labor such as the limited education of parents. El-Gabalawi found that the reasons for child labor are poverty and that the families in Egypt sometimes must send the children to work, even though the children who do not study later have worse jobs and salaries. Another reason, according to El-Gabalawi, is “family organization”. It means that the parents are not educated, the family is large in number, the wealth of family is low, and that especially mother’s education influences the child labor. The situation of “family organization” is explained that the parents of children do not suffer from lowered social status when they send children to work. Also, some children simply learn the family’s crafts by working alongside the parents. According to Goldberg, the many children who work in agriculture, work in the cotton industry, are between 5 and 10 years of age, but receive only half of the salary. Also, there are cultural norms that prevent sending girls to study, this is because they can find not many jobs after schooling.

The efforts to reduce child labor


The efforts to reduce child labor are as follows: internal policies and laws by the Indian government, external pressures by the U.S. such as trade sanctions, and non-profit organizations’ programs. In the 80s, the Indian government adopted the first laws prohibiting child labor and, more recently, in 2007, it introduced a law to abolish child labor in hotels and as domestic servants. In addition to making education free and compulsory to the children of school age, the government gave incentives for school attendance such as school lunches. It also provided educational subsidies to the families whose children attend school. According to the study by Kurosaki, the undertaken efforts included trade sanctions, legal actions for punishing the broken laws, and educating parents.

In the study by Schmitz et al., there are accounts of the non-profit organizations’ programs that focused on educating the Indian children. It is stated that, by overcoming the gap in education between the parents and children, the education programs such as “School Works Initiative” by the Catholic Relief Services, allowed 69 thousand children outside school to resume education and reduce dependence on labor such as carrying bricks, or leather and glass related jobs. Even though the domestic laws are effected, they have a limited significance in practice, and the children in rural areas tend to leave school after the first few grades.


The ILO study projects that the education of the children is improving. This means that the child labor is reduced. The efforts to reduce child labor in Egypt are the government laws, international laws, and the Egypt’s non-governmental organizations. According to El-Gabalawi, Egypt made the child labor problem important in 1989 and adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (p.1). Egypt also established the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, and it plans policies and activities for mothers and children. Goldberg found that current efforts are changing the past situation, because in the beginning of the past century, in 1933, Egypt allowed children to work in the cotton and sugar industries. As for non-governmental organizations, there are Egyptian organizations that work with the government to reduce the child labor problem. And there are foreign international organizations such as the World Food Program.


The extent of success of the efforts


According to the study of Mangla, the 80s laws by the Indian government resulted in growing school enrollment, including in the most economically deprived regions of India. When the Indian government encountered the issue of child labor in the face of compulsory education, it supported rapid return to school with the incentives such as subsidies in form of the school lunches and small money payments to families. This enhanced the extent of the efforts’ success. Still, the studies agree in their estimate that the success of the efforts was limited. Kurosaki maintains that the efforts were largely unsuccessful because of the government policies’ limited effect, non-suitable international programs of monitoring the garment suppliers, and the prevailing poverty, especially rural poverty. At the same time, India is about to become the world’s largest country in terms of the population, according Chaundhury. In their study, Chaundhury at al. point out some issues intervening with the efforts’ success, that relate the child labor problem and the structural factors: the persistence of economic inequalities, perpetuated by the caste system and gender relations, where girls and women are undervalued. The authors of the study found that the efforts such as the child labor laws were weaker than the prevailing economic context, therefore an “extensive reform” would be needed to overcome the child labor problem.

In the study by Chaundhury at el, there is an example of how child labor persists despite the efforts to reduce it. An Indian national family health survey found that the Indian women continued to bear children, in case they first-born children were daughters instead of sons. The children who were girls entered the labor force to support the family livelihood, or they cared for younger siblings. Chaundhury suggests that the elimination of the gender bias would be required to cope with the child labor problem.


Because working for children was a cultural norm for a long time, the authors did not find the evidence that the efforts were successful. El-Gabalawi (2008) reviewed the activities of the Egyptian non-governmental organizations in the study, and found that they were not addressing poverty and the family organization such as gender relations. El-Gabalawi (2008) found that there are still many problems such as street children and children who do not study. Also, social status is not considered by the children’s parents as important, and this means that parents continue sending their children to work. El-Gabalawi found that the education of mothers was especially important for reducing child labor, and this problem was not resolved. The ILO reports found the lack of governmental policies to address the problem.

Outlook for the next ten years


The child labor in India is made worse by the economic inequalities rooted in class, caste, the gender relations, and the higher status of men. Therefore, the Indian case needs a more equal view on women and castes, to benefit the disadvantaged children. Currently, India’s gender and caste relations remain a problem for improvement of the situation of child labor in the next decade. The situation of child labor can improve with overcoming poverty and with education. Also, if the social norms are addressed, it could improve in the next ten years.


The authors found that child labor became addressed by the government only a few decades ago. Before then, child labor was legalized in Egypt, and it is a social norm. At the same time, according to the ILO report, more children become educated. Since more children receive education and food assistance, they reduce work. This means that in the next ten years the problem can be less prevalent. Unlike in India, in Egypt there are many political and social changes—this can reverse the child labor improvement.

The child labor problem may not be resolved in the next ten years. Speaking about the number of working children, it may even increase, given the predicted population growth figures in India. The reviewed studies agreed that the impact of the efforts had a limited effect on the prevalence of child labor. Additional issues were pointed out in the studies such as the difficulties in collecting information, enforcing laws, and the differences in the national population studies’ data and the figures by the non-profits. This means that the state of the children is not well described.


After comparing the state of child labor in India and Egypt, it was discovered that the economic context, particularly poverty, was a major hindrance to reducing child labor. India has different social norms, caste and gender relations that favor boys to girls. Thus more girls than boys work, are disadvantaged and sent to work instead of school. In Egypt, there are social norms such as keeping children to work in family businesses. More boys than girls work there. Both countries’ governments have initiatives such as laws, policies and programs to reduce the child labor problem. In both countries, there are domestic and international non-profit organizations.

The finding about child labor in India was that child labor persisted because of the economic inequalities associated with the social norms such as the caste system and gender roles. Eliminating the gender bias could help cope with the child labor problem. As for the child labor in Egypt, its government adopted the international laws and policies about children and mothers only a few decades ago. In Egypt, social norms such as indifference about social status affect child labor. The economic condition remains important for solving the child labor problem in both countries. The child labor can be reduced with changing social norms. In the next ten years, the situation may improve, but there are new challenges such as growing population and the recent revolution in Egypt.