Children Participation in Rural Livelihood

Children Participation In Rural Livelihood

 Azher Hameed Qamar (2009)


United Nation’s Convention on The Rights of The Child (1989) is probably the first document about children rights which has been accepted by all countries (except America and Somalia). The convention is not as something immediately come to the minds but it has a long history about how the children were seen in different cultures and in different situations. The convention is mainly divided into provision, protection and particiation rights, but so far the debates are concerned on controversial issues that are more related to participation rights. Some of these rights become problematic when they come under view of different cultures and economical situations.  While children lives has been a constant theme in anthropology, the conceptualization of work and its cultural meaning also remain in debates because of its diversity. Especially in developing countries where child-labour is often bright to light, children work are needed to be seen in family’s cultural and economic contexts as well (Nieuwenhuys,1996). Bourdillon (2006) describes two position in this aspect, that children should be cared for and should be avoided to involve in work with economic or anyother point of view. But they can enjoy work for learning or their own benefit. And other is that childhood should be seen as responding to different cultural and economical situations with reference to their age and gender. One of such issues is about the children doing paid or unpaid work. Rural livlihood of the children is, therefore, considerbale while addressing this issue. Liebel (2004) as ref by Bourdillon (2006), also argues about the two different pictures from west and south when it comes to the conept of childhood as working children where cultural and economical factors are playing a vital role. He, in his work, focuses on the activities of children which are related to the particular needs in  particular livelihood. Lewis (1996), in his book “I want to join your club: letters from rural children, 1900-1920” describes rural livlihood of Canada and Newfoundland between 1900 and 1920 through the children letters. The children were considered the important participant in working and social life. They were accepted and trained as the future adult playing their role in economic and social activities. Until they entered in paid work, their identities were tied to their fathers or mothers. They were seen performing their routine chores paid or unpaid, inside or outside the home. 
Kesby and others (2006) also give arguments about taking children in work on gender based division of labour is common in the past. In this paper, my intention is to see in detail the rural livlihood of children in the south. Children participation in rural livlihood is specially affected by lot of factors depending on the economic activities, social settings, cultural upbringings etc.

Children’s work is not only regarded as an important economic activity but also it is considered as a part of socialization process. Rural areas are usually more deep rooted culturally and socially as compared to urban areas. The social system is more family oriented and based on interdepedence. Gender and age factors play an important play while performing role as participant in household activities. Besides economic role, Abebe (2007) describes children’s productive and domestic work as continuity of societal system. “The indigenous perspective on children’s work maintain that children’s work in families is a part of household production and as an ongoing process of vocational education and socialization. Children are expected to contribute while at the same time learning the necessary skills that will enable them be active members of their community.” Abebe (2007:82)
Rural economy is basically, more or less, based on agriculture and there are lot of domestic chores and farming activities which are being performed by children. The children grow up perfroming their role as competent to do something and thus not contained as ones who needed to be keep away from work to enjoy leisure and school activities. Children, if they are school going, perform certain task before going to school and same way on their way back home. Out of school children usually spent all of their time in some kind of work. For domestic chores, usually gender-based division is adopted and girls are supposed to perform domestic chores related to cooking, cleaning, washing, taking care of siblings whereas boys perform activities outside like fetching animal food, fire-woods etc..sometimes both gender perform share responsibilities as well. Priblisky (2001) describes domestic chores as instrumental for social and moral development of the children at one hand and on the other as helping activities to share the burdon of the parents or earning hands of the family. Abebe (2007) while discussing children participation in rural livlihood as a socialization process, also views it as an economical strategy to cope with the changing economical circumstances. When families are getting more involved in income generating activities, all members play their role. Boys are considered to play a role in cash economy and market activities whereas girls are taking part in household activities also supporting the earning hands in the family economy. Though girls are often behind the scene and often not recognised. Abebe (2007)
 Main findings from Ghanian and Gambian perspective as done by Chant & Jones (2003) show that children at early age are involved in a variety of work activities including unpaid domestic work and other income generating activities. School going children usually spend couple of hours before and after school in work activities. As more of domestic activities are supposed to be ‘women work’ therefore girls perform a variety of household tasks like cooking, sewing, washing, cleaning etc.
As I have already mentioned that because of the similarity in rural areas and basic economic sector (agriculture), children participation are, more or less, same.  Some of the participation activities as disclosed by researchers in different areas are being described here to get a surface view of the rural children livlihood.
Children’s Work in Rural Southern Ethipoia:

Tatek Abebe (2007) gives an emperical study from his field tour in rural areas of Gedeo district in Southern Ethiopia. He gives detail about the children participation in household economy and a shift of livlihood with the change in economic circumstances. Rural livlihood is Gedeo is primarily based on cash crops like coffee, chat (a mild stimulant leaf) and fruits. The agricultural activities are divided in four seasons and accordingly farmer’s work calendar and children’s participation in school, work, play and other social activities is planned. There are certain and intensive farming activities which involves children’s participation in many ways. Cofee production tasks include picking coffee beans, washing, drying, sorting etc. then transporting to market. Thus for all these activities children participation is required. And when busy season comes, children have to prefer their work on school though even in normal routines they are always engaged in work before school, after school, on week-ends and in summer holidays. Boys are also engaged in marketing and Abebe also interviewed the children who are doing paid jobs in other towns to cope with their poverty. Moreover children work is more than just an activity as it also represents the children participation as part of everyday life and cultural obligation. Even in paid jobs, children are less paid than adults but they take it as a contribution in household economy.
Abebe also highlighted gender-based disparity, where girls are more involved in household activities and boys perform out-of-home jobs. The girls jobs are considered as the essential skills they needed in their future home-life. They perform domestic chores like fetching water, sweeping, washing, cooking, taking care of young siblings, and also do shopping for home. Girls in this way shoulder the elders and boys to perform their income generating activities freely. Jones and Chant (2003) give a similar picture of west Africa, where girls are sharing the burdon of domestic labour and participating in economic activities indirectly. However, boys do enjoy previliges when participating in school activities because girls are often not taken seriously to get education and girls domestic jobs also  remain invisible to participation in economic activities.

Children’s Work in Rural Southern Bolivia:
Smantha Punch (2001) carried out her ethnographic research in rural community at Tarija in Southern Bolivia. During her repeated visits she explored the rural livlihood of the children and the kind of work they are involved with respect to gender and age. The families, mostly having some agricultural land and domestic animals, cultivate potatoes, maize, and other fruits and vegetables. The major activities related to household economy are traditional farming and taking care of animals. These activities can be stated as preparing land for sowing, sowing, fertilizing, taking care from diseaes and harvesting. Animals have to be taken care for their food. As there are not modern facilities to do different jobs related to farming or domestic chores, therefore, labour requirements are high. Limited economic resources have increased the task as domestic labour. Food preparation is time consuming, then washing clothes at the river by hands, collecting firewoods, fetching water are the main home activities which involves children as domestic workers because labour participation from all members of the family is needed.
According to Punch (2001), gender norms are not so rigid in southern Bolivia as compared to Africa and India. In Bolivian rural households, some jobs are generation-specific and gender-neutral tasks. Fetching and carrying jobs (fetching water, firewoods for example) are often children do before going to school and on their return as well. Children combine school and work together as well. Mostly, agricultural work is considered as male task where as domestic chores are taken as female tasks.
From age 3-6, the children perform tasks like;
l        harvesting light vegetables,
l        pealing maize stalks off,
l        scaring birds away from crops,
l        feeding domestic birds (hen, ducks etc)
l        fetching water and collecting firewoods
l        other small fetch and carry jobs
From age 6-9;
l        weeding, sowing, and irrgation
l        looking after and feeding animals
l        milking goats and cows
l        lighting fire and making tea
l        washing dishes
l        playing anf looking after younger siblings
l        cleaning and sweeping tasks
l        simple food preparation
l        and taking food to the farms.
From age 10-12;
l        transplanting, ploughing, harvesting and fertilizing
l        killing chicken and skining a pig
l        tie the oxens to plough
l        making bread and main food
l        washing clothes
From age 13-14+;
l        ploughing in straight lines
l        getting stored maize up or down from the trees
l        clearing forest land
l        cutting plants and fencing the fields
l        killing a goat and then bigger animals
l        moving cattles to other places
l        loading up donkeys properly
l        going for shopping in the town

Children move to difficult tasks with the passage of time and they aquire certain skills in that particular age. Some of the task required practice to do rather than the physical strength. But even in the tasks which involve physical strength, children take part because of thier higher energy level. Anyhow the tasks which do not require special strength or skills, they are considered as children specific task like fetching water, collecting firewoods etc.
Punch concludes that children participation is both gender and generation specific and age, birth order and sibling composition affect the allocation of work to the children. From an early age children are actively involved in different activities and with growing age, and increasing responsibilities, their sense of autonomy also increases enabling them to learn more competencies for thier individual independence. Children in rural Bolivia move between child and adult jobs and their activities are mixed depending on the particular task and the strength and competency the child has. Adults having children are free from certain child-specific jobs and more over the children help in sharing the adult work load as well with growing age and skills. (Punch, 2003)
Children Participation in Rural Livelihood in Pakistan: (My Observation)
Pakistan is an agricultural country, and Province Punjab that is consist of above 60% of population and main agricultural land. Cotton, Sugar-Cane, Wheat are main cash crops in this area. I had a chance to visit some villages for sometime. During my stay I observed how children and young boys and girls take part in different activities. The farmers, whether they have some land of thier own, or they hire land for farming, their children are always engaged in farming and domestic activities. The villages I visited have primary schools and high schools nearby (in some other village). Children go to school and thier parents want to get them educate, though they dont have any idea why they actually education for, but to them it is enough that their children can read, write and calculate. A child’s morning starts quite early, and he/she goes to nearby mosque to learn to read holy quran. On their way back home some children (boys) also go to fields to collect feed for the animals, (if stock at home is finished). In home, girls sweep floor and help their mother in making breakfast. After breakfast, childrend  go to school. Usually each home has a hand-pump for drinking water, therefore the girls go to nearby canal or tube-well only when they need to wash clothes. After returning home, girls get busy in cooking and other domestic chores. While boys feed animals and often in the afternoon take them to nearby pond. The boys who are young (above 14 approx) they go to fields to help their elders in irrigation, and other farming activities. As canal system is the main source for irrigation, therefore each farmers has his periodical turn to irrigate his land. Young boys has to go for irrigation sometimes at midnight for their turn. Young boys also have to go to town to buy necessary things for farming (some tools, fertilizers, seeds etc). Young girls at home usually learn embriodary and do it as paid job. Sewing and knitting is also done for earning. There is not a trend to get girls highly educated but they are supposed to learn home-economics (sewing, embriodary, cooking etc..)
If cows and buffallows are at home, young girls or women in house milk them and also make butter from them. But animals are kept somewhere else (at farms or other place specified for animals) boys usually go there to milk. Deep cultural roots also influence the decission making for children. Girls, even if they get some high education (provided that they get some easy opportunity, like distance education or nearby college), they are not supposed to do jobs. In case, it is needed for the economical purpose, she is allowed to do teaching job in same or nearby village girls school. Boys, who join school, has to be free from school in harvesting season as they are needed more in the fields to do harvesting jobs.

Notes / Reference: