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Reva Yunus: ‘Labour Class’ Children’s Schooling in Urban India

Reviewed by Prof. Dr. Manfred Liebel, 2023-10-30

Cover Reva Yunus: ‘Labour Class’ Children’s Schooling in Urban India ISBN 978-0-367-64749-0

Reva Yunus: ‘Labour Class’ Children’s Schooling in Urban India. Routledge (New York) 2023. 170 pages. ISBN 978-0-367-64749-0.

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Reva Yunus' book is an examination of the lives of working children in the Global South that forcefully and empirically evidenced challenges common theses about schools as a lever to abolish child labour. The inclusion of a broader and changing socio-economic context enables the author to challenge prevailing (inter)national policy and corresponding development discourses that address the relationship between poverty and the schooling of children of poor families in the Global South. In particular, by addressing the widespread assumption that education is the key to reducing poverty and promoting economic growth in ‘developing’ countries, she challenges the assumption that children’s work and school attendance are mutually exclusive.

Contrary to the publications of governments and some international organisations, especially the International Labour Organisation (ILO), school becomes visible as a space of experience where the discrimination, oppression and exclusion of working children does not end but is reproduced. At school, children are confronted, for example, with textbooks that reinforce negative stereotypes about their communities and portray them as needing moral guidance from the state or privileged groups. It is also to be welcomed that the author questions the narrative of the ‘girl effect’ propagated by corporate-affiliated foundations such as the Nike and NoVo Foundations and the World Bank, according to which the formal education of girls is supposed to be the key to balanced economic growth and the reduction of social inequality.

The author has not taken the easy way out in presenting the social location and specific experiences of the children. She does not content herself with an abstract concept of working class, but analyses the social marginalisation and discrimination of the children in a differentiated and intersectional way as the interaction of class, caste and gender affiliations and the stereotyping associated with them. In doing so, she also addresses the specific forms of (child) labour that emerged with the introduction of the capitalist mode of production in colonial India and continue in a modified way in postcolonial India to this day. It shows that widespread, insecure and unprotected informal labour, like child labour, was not a marginal aberration but ‘constitutive’ of India’s economic growth. Only recently has formal schooling been explicitly promoted as a means to solve the ‘child labour problem’. However, this does not lead to more equality (of opportunity), as is often claimed, but, according to the author, even contributes to increasing social inequality through the neglect of the public school system and its increasing privatisation.


The book is a study that shows in a concrete and differentiated way how working children experience a state school in India and confront the discrimination they experience there. The study thus also contradicts the thesis that school is a lever for the abolition of child labour and enables working children to lead a better life.

Review by
Prof. Dr. Manfred Liebel
Master of Arts Childhood Studies and Children’s Rights (MACR) an der Fachhochschule Potsdam, Fachbereich Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaften

There are 102 Reviews of Manfred Liebel.

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Cite this publication
Manfred Liebel, 2023. Review of: Reva Yunus: ‘Labour Class’ Children’s Schooling in Urban India. Routledge 2023. ISBN 978-0-367-64749-0. In: socialnet Reviews, 2023-10-30. ISSN 2190-9245. Retrieved 2023-12-10 from

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