All entries for Monday 18 July 2005

July 18, 2005

Child Labour

Virginia Postrel writes in the New York Times about research into child labour:

When he started working on child labor issues six years ago, Professor Edmonds said in an interview, "the conventional view was that child labor really wasn't about poverty." Children's work, many policy makers believed, "reflected perhaps parental callousness or a lack of education for parents about the benefits of educating your child." So policies to curb child labor focused on educating parents about why their children should not work and banning children's employment to remove the temptation.

Recent research, however, casts doubt on the cultural explanation. "In every context that I've looked at things, child labor seems to be almost entirely about poverty. I wouldn't say it's only about poverty, but it's got a lot to do with poverty," Professor Edmonds said. As families' incomes increase, children tend to stop working and, where schools are available, they go to school. If family incomes drop, children are more likely to return to work.

Read the full article here.

The thought of young children working tends to elicit outrage from many camps. Such groups claim childhood is a time for playing, learning and enjoying lack of real responsibility. Multinational companies therefore come under fire for turning childhood into an undesirable chore. Critics would do well to ask why these children are working in the first place. According to the NYT article, poverty is the primary cause. If families are to feed themselves and purchase vital medicines and equipment, income is needed. If that income must come from the young, then so be it.

That children choose to work in a factory implies it’s the best option available given all alternatives. Rather than demonise those employing child labour, we should accept the current state of affairs as necessary if families are to build up sufficient funds to allow future children to enjoy the carefree lifestyle of kids in the developed world. Imposing what we in the UK see as employee ‘rights’ upon foreign subsidiaries of multinational firms reduces incentives to locate abroad, effectively punishing those workers who depend on them the most.

via Dynamist Blog

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