All entries for December 2016

December 27, 2016

Who cares? Addressing the costs of children’s care work in the global South

By Jean Grugel, University of York, and Shirin M. Rai, University of Warwick

Austerity has many victims; among them are children. There is growing evidence that economic shocks can act as entry route into child labour, paid and unpaid. Preliminary research in UNICEF also suggests a link between children’s unpaid domestic work and violence and associates children’s early enter into the world of work, and taking on a significant burden of unpaid care in the home with lower health outcomes and difficulties in accessing decent work as an adult. So there are plenty of reasons to explore the costs children are paying under neoliberalism.

Children who do unpaid care work, which is often invisible in communities and uncounted in national statistics about work, are particularly vulnerable to changes in the family economy, as more women enter the labour market in unstable and poorly paid jobs, especially in countries where state provision of services and welfare is thin and sometimes shrinking. For this reason, we have been researching the impact of care work on children. Just now we are at a stage of devising a research project to do empirical work that will test our theoretical framework. We will focus on developing a pilot study of child carers in Mexico. This project will build on our previous work on the costs of social reproduction (Rai et al, 2014) and on children’s work poverty and children’s rights in Latin America (Grugel, 2013, 2015, 2017).

Child labour in general is highest amongst poorest households. For these groups above all, the privatization of public sector services, rapid changes in labour markets, rising levels of rural-urban and international migration, the expansion of women in work and the rising numbers of old people undoubtedly lead to changes in domestic roles and increase the burden of care that falls to young people. However, the dynamics within households and communities that lead some children to take up unpaid care work are still poorly understood. We know that adults sometimes socialize some children for care work, with girls more likely to become carers, and the failure to address gender discrimination also means that girls face a greater burden of unpaid work. This burden of care almost certainly accentuates other barriers to education and other services, thereby heightening gender inequalities and human development losses. The consequences of the gendered dimension of unpaid care work by children, although potentially highly significant, remain under-explored.

Existing studies of child care work in the global South draw from three main approaches:

  • Resilience - approaches that explore the potential of child carers to construct positive social identities and their social competence through work. Despite the focus on children’s wellbeing, however, this framework can offer a “convenient escape route” for policy-makers (Rugalema, 2007).
  • Rights – approaches rooted in the child rights paradigm, suggesting that a recognition of the rights and status of children as carers would enable their interests to be better protected. Despite its importance, the rights approach fails to connect children’s care work sufficiently with gender and development and scholarship on unpaid care work and the care economy.
  • Social Reproduction – a framework that locates care giving in the context of reproduction and sustenance of life in a changing global political economy. A key feminist concept, social reproduction has nonetheless been applied to children’s unpaid care work only sporadically.

We intend to go beyond these approaches and identify the costs child carers pay, and which children pay them, in order to design interventions that will reduce those costs. We accept that care work may bring some compensations to child care workers, in feeling valued, for example, emotional closeness or via making an economic and social contribution to the household as resilience approaches suggest. But neither these benefits nor consenting to caring responsibilities, in themselves, offset the costs children pay, including health, educational, skills and social losses that affect both their immediate wellbeing and negatively impact on their future lives.

Drawing on Rai et al (2014), we call these costs ‘depletion’. The likelihood and scale of depletion child carers experience is affected by their age, gender, scale, nature, context and regularity of care work. It can be analysed qualitatively by comparing the lives of child carers with similarly position children who do not have care responsibilities, and it can be quantified by measuring the gap between the outflows of their care labour in relation to the inflows of resources they can access -medical care, emotional and social support, education, leisure, income earned and time. We describe strategies to offset them as ‘mitigation’ and ‘replenishment’ and we see it as vital that policy makers at the national and international level understand their responsibilities in supporting replenishment, above all.

In our research we therefore ask:

  • Who cares? How do the children’s care responsibilities vary with gender, age, household structure and place? How do routes into care differ between and within social and cultural boundaries? Do households, local and national state, health, education and migration systems act as ‘domains of complicity’ in allowing some children carry out care work and if so how do they operate?
  • What are the human costs of performing care labour to children? How do children experience depletion through care work? How do they evaluate their own experiences? What might be the gains made by child carers and how can these offset depletion and be more effectively harnessed and recognized?
  • How can states and international organizations best address these costs, support child carers effectively and replenish the losses they experience? What are the barriers to successful and effective support for child carers and the introduction of policies that would reduce their burden of care and how can they be removed?

We will use qualitative and quantitative data to establish the factors that make harm most likely (for example, the care tasks, number of hours, degree of isolation or exposure to violence etc.), a profile of who cares and the routes children take into care work. This in turn can help us address these issues to explore what needs to be done to in terms of what Diane Elson has called 3Rs – to recognise, reduce and redistribute the social reproductive work carried out by children who care and encourage states to take action and accept their responsibility to improve their lives.


GRUGEL J. and L. Fontana (2017) ‘Deviant and Hyper Compliance: The Domestic Politics of Child Labour’, Human Rights Quarterly (forthcoming November).

GRUGEL J. and L. Fontana (2015) ‘To Eradicate or To Legalise? The Politics of ILO Convention 182 and the Debate on Child Labour in Bolivia’, Global Governance 21(1), pp. 61-78.

GRUGEL J. (2013) ‘Children’s Rights and Children’s Welfare after the Convention on the Rights of the Child’, Progress in Development Studies, 13(1), pp. 13-30.

RAI, S.M., HOSKYNS, C and THOMAS, D., (2014), 'Depletion: The Costs of Social Reproduction, International Feminist Journal of Politics', 16(1), pp 86-105.

December 15, 2016

Modern Challenges to Islamic Law: Shaheen Sardar Ali’s Tribute to the Dihliz

text islamic law

By Madiha Shekhani

‘At the dihliz one is offered multiple panoramic visions dotted on the horizons beyond one’s immediate proximity’ (Ali, 2016, p.2)

Within the current political climate Islam faces several multifaceted challenges – it can best be described as a highly charged, contested, and misunderstood concept. Interpretations and prescriptions of the Islamic legal systems have become a major point of contention not only within Muslim communities, but other circles as well. Talks of the compatibility of competing interpretations, compatibility with the ‘modern’ world order, and the legal tradition’s equation with democracy, human rights, gender, development, etc. have become quite common. On the one hand, Islam as a source of a legal system has been objectively critiqued, whereas on the other, it has been victimized by dogmatism from both ends of the ideological spectrum.

Conversations on the topic often fall short when the Islamic legal system, its history, and prescriptions are viewed as unified or monolithic entities, which are static in nature and somehow disconnected from other histories, cultures, and identities. To understand fully the depth, plurality, flexibility and, most importantly, the shortcomings of system, it must be viewed in its entirety. The contemporary encounters of Muslims and non-Muslims with Islamic traditions is quite varied, and Modern Challenges to Islamic Law is Shaheen Sardar Ali’s ode to this diversity of interpretation and experience.

Shaheen Ali is one of the highly celebrated female scholars from Pakistan. Honored with prestigious awards on both national and international platforms -- such as the Aizaz-i-Fazilat, a renowned Presidential Award in 1992 and the British Muslims Annual Honors in 2002 -- she remains at the top of her field. As one of the 100 most influential women in Pakistan (according to The Women Power 100), she has not only contributed to research and academia, but has been an active figure within the government, and has chaired projects dedicated to betterment of women’s status in society.

Currently a vital part of the Warwick School of Law, she has been widely published and her work has contributed to crucial research areas such as Islamic law and jurisprudence, human rights, and women and children’s rights. Modern Challenges is yet another prized contribution she has made to the field of study.

Her work benefits from the years of experience she has had as a researcher, practitioner and a Muslim woman who has witnessed first-hand the multiplicity of Islamic traditions, and the internal and external challenges that it faces. In her words the book ‘aims to bring to the fore the diversity within Muslim communities, and the various cultural and linguistic lenses through which they perceive and experience their religious traditions’ (Ali 2016, pg. 2).

She begins and ends her book with the very impactful metaphor of the dihliz, loosely translated to denote a threshold or an in-between space. The metaphor is used to introduce the reader to the intellectual stance that underlies the book. As per my understanding, the point of vision from the dihliz is such that it enables one to best understand various intersections. It is a position where one is far enough, yet not entirely disconnected, from the structure to best appreciate how it has been constructed – the various foundations it stands upon, the pillars that hold it up, the aesthetic ways in which it has been embellished, and the disconnects and cracks in the system.

In her work Professor Ali has the same modus operandi, whereby she reiterates that there are several different views and practices none of which must be dismissed, so the entire structure can be understood and appreciated. Specifically being positioned at the dihliz or the passage way allows her to balance in a way where she presents her view ‘without apology, or dismissal of others’ viewpoints’ (Ali 2016, pg. 3). The multi-disciplinary and inter-cultural stance that she adopts is particularly impressive for it helps one realize that a field as variegated as Islamic law can best be understood when positioned at the dihliz, ‘where one is simultaneously inside and outside broader frameworks’ (Ali 2016, pg. 2).

She interacts with several facets of the legal system, both in theory and in practice, the paradoxes that lie within them, and how they have responded to internal and external challenges. Modern Challenges explores a broad range of themes under this framework such as Sharia, Islamic finance, the effects of colonialism on the legal traditions, and most interestingly the phenomenon of the internet fatwa.

Constantly cautious of the fact that the Islamic legal traditions are anything but linear, the basic premise of the book is that ‘Islamic law and sharia are inherently dynamic, sensitive and susceptible to changing needs… highlighting its plurality and its inbuilt transformative process (pg. 10). By explaining some facets of Islamic law in such a manner, Modern Challenges could help one understand how certain stringent presumptions regarding the archaic nature of Islamic legal systems, their incompatibility with democracy and social development have emerged. Her work lends voice to objective critiques and deconstructions of such dogmatic perceptions.

The pertinence of her book goes strides beyond the immediate topics that she addresses. The stance upon which her work is predicated must be appreciated for it could be the key to understanding several the complex debates today, and countering rampant dogmatisms. Respect for, and incorporation of competing views is a much needed practice not just within academia, but largely so within society. Her approachable way of writing gives many a chance to be inspired, and to wonder whether we too must position ourselves at the dihliz of the conundrums we attempt to solve.

The book was formally launched at the University of Warwick on the 14th of November 2016. The launch was led by an equally impressive cohort of panelists: Prof. William Twining, Professor Abdul Paliwala and Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, chaired by Professor Shirin Rai.


Ali, Shaheen Sardar. Modern Challenges to Islamic Law. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Print.

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Edouard Leonet
Anni Piiroinen
Sailja Jain
Maria Elena Olsen
Madiha Shekhani
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