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Report: Failings of China’s School System is The Root of Child Labour

Posted by Author on September 4, 2007

Press release, China Labour Bulletin

Small Hands: A survey report on Child Labour in China provides a timely, detailed and insightful analysis of the growing problem of child labour in China. Based on research carried out on the ground in 2005, the report explores both the demand for child labour in China and the supply of child labour stemming from serious failings in the rural school system.

Our researchers talked to government labour officials, school teachers and administrators, factory owners, child workers and their parents to build up a picture of the living and working conditions of child labourers and explore the reasons why these children drop out of school early and go into work.

Because child workers have no ability to protect themselves, they are generally paid less, work longer hours and live in poorer conditions than adult workers. Moreover, because child labour is illegal, very often workers and their employers will develop covert alliances to avoid detection by government and law enforcement agencies, thus driving the problem further underground.

While poverty is clearly an important factor in the creation of child labour, the report identifies the failings of China’s school system as the root cause of the problem. China’s investment in education is only 2.7 per cent of its GDP, less than half the United Nations’ recommended level of funding. Primary and secondary schools in poor rural counties receive minimal, if any, government funding, and students’ parents have for many years provided the bulk of the funding through the payment of various “miscellaneous fees.” This forces parents to make a cost/benefit analysis between the cost of their child’s education, the potential benefits of further education and the immediate benefits of dropping out of school early finding work. Our researchers discovered the drop out rate for middle school students in some areas was around 40 per cent or even higher.

The problem is exacerbated by a school curriculum at both primary and secondary levels that emphasizes academic excellence over broad-based vocational training. Many students drop out simply because they cannot keep-up; while others are weeded out by schools anxious to show off high examination pass rates. And even if rural students do make it all the way to university, they now have very little chance of a good job on graduation, making the benefits of continuing education even more questionable and remote.

In the final section of the report, China Labour Bulletin recommends that the laws on child labour be simplified and clarified and that officials are both equipped and encouraged to effectively implement the law. In order to limit and eventually eliminate the supply of child labour, CLB recommends that the government provide sufficient funding to ensure that the compulsory stages of education in China are genuinely free to all, and that a much greater role be given to non-governmental organizations and social groups in tackling and eroding the socio-economic foundations of child labour supply.

To read the report in full click here (in .PDF).

Original report from China Labour Bulletin

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