Instead of aiming at abolishing child labor, should policy makers look for alternative approaches. Parents feel compelled to send their children to work as a means of survival.
Although not immediately apparent, a simple ban on child labor does not prove effective in ridding of it. Therefore, integrative efforts should be made in conjunction with eliminating child labor. Instead of waiting for the natural economic growth to slowly remove child labor, the government and policy makers may intervene by offering incentives. Integrative policies include improved schooling, trade union involvement, school meals, and income subsidies. To find alternative means of addressing child labor where it prevails on a larger scale after establishing it as the perpetrator of such maladies as reduced adult wages, adult unemployment, and negative impact on human capital.
Child Labor is a prevalent problem throughout the world especially in developing countries. Children work for a variety of reasons, the most important being poverty and the induced pressure upon them to escape from this plight. Though children are not well paid, they still serve as major contributors to family income in developing countries.
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Schooling problems also contribute to child labor, whether it be the inaccessibility of schools or the lack of quality education which spurs parents to enter their children in more profitable pursuits. Traditional factors such as rigid cultural and social roles in certain countries further limit educational attainment and increase child labor.
Denying the right of education and the possibility to achieve complete physical and psychological development, child labor serves as a source of exploitation and abuse.
In my definition of child labor throughout this paper, a child qualifies as a laborer if the child performs economic activity on a regular basis that provides output for the market.
Since numbers are often underreported, determining the actual prevalence of child
labor exhibits problems. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated in 1995 that around 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen years old work for a salary or wage in the world.1 120 million of those counted worked full time. Certain geographical areas demonstrate higher child participation rates than others. The above figure relates only to full-time child labor, estimates would rise if part-time child labor were included. For instance in 1990, Europe shows a .10% rate, Latin America and Caribbean with 11.23%, Asia follows with a 15.19% rate and Africa with the highest rate of 27.87%.2 Many of these children work in dangerous occupations, such as agriculture or factories. Over 70% of children work in agriculture, hunting, forestry, and fishing. The second highest sector in terms of the percentage of child workers is manufacturing with 8.3%. Wholesale and retail trade, restaurants and hotels have the same percentage as
However, the informal economy conceals many unaccounted child laborers. From small businesses to micro-enterprises, unsafe working conditions, low productivity, minimal returns to investment and low to no wages all characterize informal work.
The ILO reports of the informal economy as: The expanding and increasingly diverse group of workers and enterprises in both the rural and urban areas operating informally, they share one important characteristic: they are not recognized or protected under the legal and regulatory frameworks. Informal workers and entrepreneurs are characterized by a high degree of vulnerability.
This type of economy accounts for the most child laborers, especially due to its
ability to spillover into other economic sectors. For instance, an organized commercial agricultural estate may form an agreement for some production by a smaller family farm or a multinational corporation may contract materials from small workshops or families who work at home. Overall, child labor does not help alleviate poverty in developing countries but actually helps perpetuate it.
As we have seen a factor causing child labor is low wages and low adult wages serve as a factor in perpetuating poverty. Before exploring the causal link of child labor and adult wage reduction, one must first explore the reasons for children in the labor market instead of adults. On the demand side, employers assert that children possess productivity traits that adults lack, such as nimble fingers. On the supply side, the parent may believe that due to lack of adult jobs or low adult wages in the household, child labor serves as the only option.
Why do employers demand child labor? The International Labour Organization reports, Employers may prefer children because they are paid less than adults on a daily rate (but not piece-work) basis, because of beliefs about their suitability for certain jobs, and because more work can be extracted from them owing to their greater docility and lack of awareness of, and ability to claim, their rights.
Due to the ready supply and increasing demand of child labor, adults experience the detrimental effects on their wages. Since adults and children are substitutes in the labor market, child labor, when used, increases the supply of labor. As a result, this places pressure on the wages. As the supply of labor increases due to parents sending their children to work in order to help make ends meet, it reduces the wages of adults already employed.
The adult unemployment rate and child labor have a causal link in that a rise in child labor increases the incidence of adult unemployment.5 It is but fair to assume that in the same measure as females replaced men as factory workers, so child labor, if not restricted, will crowd a proportionate number of adults out of employment.
The general conception holds that more children equate more working hands. Thus, more working children generate greater income for the family. Contrarily, studies on unemployment show that the number of unemployed adults in India nearly equals the number of child laborers there.
Child labor poses long run consequences that actually help perpetuate poverty by diminishing human capital. Economists refer to this negative effect as the child labor trap.
An increase in child labor causes a decline in human capital on the working children.
Hence, an inverse relation exists between child labor and a child’s future productivity in life.
Children who work long days possess little time for education and as a result, exhibit low productivity as an adult. Investing in human capital contains growing importance for a country’s economic growth. When parents cannot invest in their child’s education, it then affects the next generation.
At the very least, child labor for those under 14 years of age disrupts their education or even inhibits education altogether.
Children, who begin working at a younger age, achieve a lower level of education, which impacts the child’s future income generation capabilities and welfare.
Since the early 19th and late 20th centuries, the U.S. has progressed toward eliminating child labor. The extent to which a society protects children’s rights measures the society’s progression. As people became more aware of children’s needs, they placed more emphasis on education. To a certain extent, child labor in the U.S. still exists in sectors of the economy, mainly among immigrants. In comparison to child labor in the late 1800s to early 1900s the prevalence of child labor and its conditions have improved drastically. The U.S. case study proves that child labor laws alone do not solve the problem; integrative efforts such as education, stipends, and trade unions must also be used.
School represents the most important means of drawing children away from the labor market. Studies have correlated low enrollment with increased rates of child employment. School provides children with guidance and the opportunity to understand their role in society. Therefore, many insist on immediately abolishing child labor in developing countries and requiring children to go to school.9 Yet this approach is unfeasible for a number of reasons. First, children will not attend these schools without an economic change in their condition. Schools must make it worthwhile for children to attend in order to make up for lost earnings. One necessary provision is that these schools be free. Another possibility is that these schools serve food supplements. Parents might view this nutrition as valuable and therefore keep their children in school. The quality of education can also be improved so that schooling is considered an important factor in the future success of a child.
Only after the introduction of such substitutes will school attendance increase.
Policy must also be phased in relation to the level of development and the extent of child labor currently being used in an economy. Just as current trade agreements allow for differential and preferential treatment for developing countries, so should labor standards clauses. Standards should be seen as escalator — as development increases so do the labour standards required in a particular economy. There are basic minimum standards which are applicable to all economies.
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