These simple graphs reveal a lot about children’s time-use. First, we see that overall, children in Ethiopia spend more time ‘caring for others’ than in India, although by age 19, Indian girls spend the most time ‘caring for others’ – unsurprising perhaps since by this age 37% of the girls in India had married and of those who had married 57% had become mothers. Second, the time spent in caring and in household chores differs between girls and boys from the age of 12, and these differences widen at the age of 19. Third, boys spend more time compared to girls on unpaid farming and herding and in the family business. And fourth, by age 15, boys are spending more time, compared to girls, in paid work, and by age 19 the gender gap widens dramatically.
Qualitative interviews with children and their parents and caregivers go deeper into how decisions are made and negotiated around boys’ and girls’ time-use, and how their roles and responsibilities adjust in response to changes in household circumstances, such as parental illness, job loss, or when an elder sibling leaves home.
Triveni and Bhavana
Triveni and Bhavana, both twenty years old, are two of the girls we’ve been interviewing in India since 2007. From their narratives, we see how ‘care’ is wrapped up in so many other aspects of their evolving biographies.
When she was first interviewed, age 12, Triveni and her sister were living on their own, on account of both their parents having died. Their grandmother maintained a caregiving role though she lived separately. The girls shared household responsibilities, earned money and attended school. By age twenty, Triveni (whose sister had married) was living with her grandmother. She had missed several classes since she was taking care of her grandmother who was recuperating after being attacked by a dog.
Nobody else is there, [I] felt I have to take care. I did not go anywhere… I was in the house… washing the wound with soap three times a day, giving medicine.
Triveni said she came to appreciate the fragility of life, and when her grandmother scolded her for missing classes Triveni responded, “If I go, who will look after you?”
Unlike Triveni, Bhavana left school after Grade 2 when her father died. Each year, she accompanied her mother and brothers on their seasonal migration to Mumbai in search of work. At first, her job was to prepare food for the family, then she began working laying roads and in construction. Age 16, she had taken on most of the housework at home, and complained that her sister-in-law contributed very little.
In Bhavana’s eyes, unpaid care work was about more than simply getting a job done. Learning to work ‘properly’ – whether at housework or in the fields – would help her avoid problems with future in-laws. She explained,
by the time we go to our husband’s house, we must have learnt all these things… if we don’t know these works…. they might say ‘What work do you know? What work have your parents taught you?’… so we have to learn now.
Her hope was that by gaining a reputation for being a skilled homemaker and hard worker she would marry into a good family and her workload would be reduced. In reality, after marrying, aged 16, life was much the same; as she put it, “It’s only a different place now.”