Letter: Child labour that supports families

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Sir: Tim McGirk is right to highlight the plight of working children in India ('Help at hand for the slave weavers robbed of childhood', 2 January). However, the problem of child labour in India has to be seen not in isolation but against the background of general economic and social underdevelopment in that country.

India is facing a grave economic crisis. There is a very high degree of unemployment at present. For every single vacancy, there are at least 2,000 applications. Families living in the rural areas of Bihar and Orissa are worst hit and the wages earnt by their children are their only source of income. If the products made by child labour abroad are banned in the West, it will only make the plight of these children and their families infinitely worse.

Child labour in any form is despicable. That is why India has passed many laws banning the employment of children. But unless the government can provide alternative employment for the parents, it would be morally indefensible to enforce the law. Human rights activists who are constantly putting pressure on their governments to impose a ban on products made abroad by child labour are thus merely dealing with the symptoms, not the cause.

Under the United Nations Convention on Human Rights, all citizens are entitled to basic human necessities, including the right to live and the right to work. The import ban sought by the human rights activists would deprive thousands of Indian families of their only livelihood, thus forcing them to the verge of starvation and death.

Unless an alternative arrangement is made for the affected families, the import ban would violate Article 1 of the UN Convention on Human Rights.

Yours faithfully,


Gants Hill,


2 January