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Monday, October 5, 2009

Child labor is a sensitive subject for many people around the world. However, this must not discourage objective analysis of the practice. A simple search for "benefits of child labor" turns up very little relevant information. Due to the sensitive nature, I recognize that not everyone will appreciate this post, but I hope you can appreciate the spirit in which it is written - the spirit of reason over emotion.

I want to remove your cultural blinders with regard to child labor. In most of the more developed countries of the world, child labor is seen as a dark memory from the past, virtually inexistent in these countries today. However, stating the obvious, not all countries developed at the same rate. Many countries are significantly less developed, and as such, child labor practices are still common.

Before going further, I feel obligated to draw a distinction between forced and unforced child labor. Forced child labor includes any form or slavery or indentured servitude, including prostitution. While adult prostitution is a legitimate enterprise, children are not mindful beings with regard to sex.

Unforced child labor includes agricultural and factory work, barring the previously stated distinctions. These children are free to work or not to work. No one is forcing them to hold these jobs. This is unforced child labor, and it should not be condemned by people not living in the given country.

Growing up in the United States, I was only eligible for one kind of job at the age of thirteen - agricultural work (with strict limitations on the number of hours and the times of day I could work). No one forced me to work. I wanted to work. However, the International Labour Organization would still have classified me as a child laborer - and therefore, someone needing rescued. I did not need rescuing and neither do many of these children who want to earn a little extra money to help their families - or simply to stay alive.

In some countries, there are more orphans than orphanage capacity. These children must not only sustain themselves but also any siblings they may have. Why should they not be allowed to earn income? Why do foreign governments pressure these countries to prevent these children from earning an honest living?

Before factory jobs were available in these countries, many children simply died. These "sweatshops" pay wages significantly lower than the wages in more developed countries, and sometimes significantly lower than wages after you factor for purchasing power parity. However, they are still better than other job alternatives.

I have seen the jobs and working conditions of children in non-factory jobs in several lesser developed countries. Instead of hauling large amounts of recyclables or firewood over long distances, these children could be sitting in a factory making textiles, AND earning higher wages. Why should we deny them this luxury?

I am stating the obvious to say that child labor creates a trade-off between labor and education. However, if your choices are death and education, would you really choose education? Education is a goal many families in lesser developed countries hope to attain for their children. Studies show, and I have seen with my own eyes, that when these families receive any surplus income at all (after paying for their basic necessities), any children who were working are sent back to school instead.

Child labor is an unfortunate practice that prevents children from receiving a proper education. However, it is also a godsend to many children and families who would otherwise not earn enough money to survive. Allow these lesser developed countries the chance to improve their situations themselves rather than pressuring them to adopt our customs, which evolved only after achieving a more advanced state of development.

Posted by Eleutherian

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