Agrarian Poverty, Children

Banerji, Rukmini

     In predominantly agrarian economies, such as India, agriculture remains the primary source of employment and income for a large section of the population. Changes in agricultural conditions affect the lives of those who depend on cultivation for a livelihood. Thus the structure of agricultural production and the nature of economic and occupational stratification in agrarian society affect income and employment patterns of rural households, and in turn can be expected to influence children's work and schooling.
     The objective of this dissertation is to explore regional patterns in rural children's schooling and work in India. The explanations for the variations in children's activities across the country, are sought primarily in terms of the nature of the agrarian context. Individuals live and work within the context of an economic and social structure that defines the resources and alternatives that are available to them. The main conceptual argument hinges on the notion, that on average, the costs and benefits associated with alternative courses of action, such as children's participation in work or in school, are influenced by these structural constraints and thus vary across different social and economic environments. The empirical section of the dissertation uses district level and region level information for rural India for 1970-71.
     The results confirm that the work and schooling patterns of rural Indian children differ significantly between agriculturally poor regions and agriculturally affluent regions. Some kinds of agricultural prosperity raise school attendance while others raise children's work force participation. A large proportion of rural girls spend much of their time doing household chores, and home work is a major barrier to girls' attendance in school. Increase in rural income levels does not always lead to narrowing of differences between boys and girls, at least with regard to their involvement in work or schooling. Looking solely at the allocation of time among children of the rural poor, one can conclude that the benefits of overall agricultural prosperity in 1971, did 'trickle down' to the children of the poorest households.