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Children's Right to Education


Vimala Ramachandran

BORN UNFREE: CHILD LABOUR, EDUCATION AND THE STATE IN INDIA
By Myron Weiner, Neera Burra, Asha Bajpai
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 213, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 3 March 2007

This omnibus edition brought out by Oxford University Press is a timely compilation of important landmarks in the child labour and education debate in India. All three of the books by Myron Weiner, Neera Burra and Asha Bajpai included in this omnibus have been central to the debate on the issue in the country. While the empirical information contained herein may be outdated, the books taken together argue convincingly for the need for greater political commitment and administrative muscle to ensure every single child in the country can realize her right to childhood. The introduction by Neera Burra locates the debate in the current context wherein the government has amended the Constitution of India and made right to education a fundamental right and the more recent notifications of the government on total ban on child labour in several occupations hitherto known as non-hazardous. However, the introduction is patchy and pales in comparison with the three classic books because it fails to locate the debate in the larger debate on quality of education, discrimination within schools and a range of factors that push children out of school.   The relationship between child labour and education is complex. Evidence from across the world suggests that compulsory education is a necessary condition for the abolition of child labour. While this may not be a sufficient condition–it is no doubt necessary and the first step in that direction. Ensuring access to full-time schools should go alongside ensuring that these schools function and that the children are taught in an environment of trust and love. Notwithstanding the stormy debate in the 1990s on whether universal elementary education should be made compulsory no one today will argue against the merit of making it a fundamental right of every single child. Equally, the debate on quality education and the common school system had flagged the importance of full-time school of good quality. It is indeed noteworthy that non-formal education was officially withdrawn and now—at least on paper—the government is committed to full time schooling for all children.   While the country has certainly come a long way since the publication of Weiner’s classic book in 1991—evidence suggests that enrolment in schools is not adequate to ensure that children are liberated from the drudgery of work. Field studies cited in the introduction to this omnibus not only reveal that children participate in economic activity and that ...


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