About this episode
Child labour is a major social problem that contributes to poor physical health and lower educational achievement. A collaborative research team from Australia, India and the Netherlands conducted a large-scale study of children in rural areas of India. The team’s research confirms the hugely negative mental health impacts of child labour, and opens up important implications for policy, practice and future research. More
Child labour deprives children of their childhood, potential and dignity, and harms their physical and mental development. Despite these negative consequences, recent reports estimate that globally, there are 160 million children engaged in child labour – representing an increase of 8.4 million in the last four years alone.
As such, child labour represents a long-standing and challenging social problem in developing countries. India alone is responsible for 6% of child workers worldwide. Here, child workers typically live in rural areas and undertake agricultural work.
It is likely that child labour is both a symptom and a cause of poverty. Not only do children engaged in labour achieve lower levels of education, but their physical health can also be jeopardised. However, less is known about the psychological and mental health impacts. In particular, previous studies have not been concerned with identifying the impact of child labour on psychological wellbeing, and most research has focused on children living in urban areas.
In a recent study, a team of researchers aimed to identify the effects of child labour on the psychological wellbeing of children in Tamil Nadu – a predominantly rural and agricultural state in southern India. The research team included Professor Alberto Posso at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Professor Simon Feeny from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Dr Ahmed Skali from the University of Groningen, Professor Amalendu Jyotishi from Azim Premji University, Dr Shyam Nath from Amrita University, and Dr P. K. Viswanathan from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham.
The researchers collected data between June and September of 2018. This mid‐to‐late summer period is when children are most likely to be working. The team randomly selected households with children aged between 12 and 18 years old, and on completion, they had collected data on 947 children from 750 households across 20 villages.
Of the surveyed children, 171 were engaged in child labour. This means that they were working in exchange for payment in any form, such as money or food, either as a regular commitment or as an informal arrangement. By taking a questionnaire, the children provided measures of happiness, hope, emotional wellbeing, self‐efficacy, fear and stress, along with demographic details, including age, gender and number of siblings. Adults in each household provided information on wealth and their typical household expenditure, to provide greater insight into the economic context of each child.
The researchers’ analyses confirmed that the children undertaking work reported lower levels of happiness, emotional wellbeing, self‐efficacy and hopefulness than their non-working peers. They were also more stressed, but reported similar levels of fear to non-working children.
Looking more closely at the data, Professor Posso and his collaborators confirmed that child labour was negatively associated with happiness, hopefulness, emotional wellbeing and self‐efficacy. In other words, labour was linked with significantly lower psychological wellbeing across most of the outcomes measured in this study.
The researchers also conducted a variety of more complex statistical analyses to confirm the robustness of their findings and account for potentially confounding factors, such as gender and the village each child lived in. The findings were clear, leaving no doubt that working goes hand in hand with poorer psychological wellbeing. The research team believe that this is a causal relationship, meaning that labour is detrimental to children’s mental health.
Given that poorer childhood mental health is related to other negative outcomes in life, including lower educational achievement, substance abuse, violence and poor reproductive health, these findings point to child labour as an important and necessary target for intervention.
The researchers acknowledge that combatting the psychological consequences of child labour will require policymakers to treat the root causes of child labour. They also acknowledge that this problem is extremely difficult and complex to address from a policy perspective. Unfortunately, banning child labour could have adverse impacts on child wages, which may lead to an increase in child labour to compensate for the reduction in a family’s income.
With this in mind, the researchers have proposed that other types of interventions should be considered. For example, they suggest that family education programmes on how to identify mental health issues in children and adolescents could be developed. Schools could also increase their provision of mental health services, particularly in rural areas.
In addition to these recommendations, the researchers outline the next steps required from a research perspective. In their study, they did not measure how many hours children worked per week, so could not determine how the intensity of labour impacts psychological wellbeing. In addition, it would be useful to explore how different types of labour impact children. For example, the demands of working in agriculture differ in many ways from those involved in domestic labour.
Finally, the team’s study did not assess the long‐term consequences of child labour. As such, future research should take a longitudinal approach to track the impacts on children throughout their development into young adulthood and beyond.
Original Article Reference
This Audio is a summary of the paper, ‘Child labor and psychosocial wellbeing: Findings from India’, in Health Economics, doi.org/10.1002/hec.4224
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
What does this mean?
Share: You can copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
Adapt: You can change, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.
Credit: You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.