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Child labor is the employment of children under an age determined by law or custom. This practice is considered exploitative by many countries and international organizations. Child labor was utilized to varying extents through most of history, but entered public dispute with the beginning of universal schooling, with changes in working conditions during industrialization, and with the emergence of the concepts of workers' and children's rights.Child labor is extremely common in places.


Child labor is very common, and can be factory work, mining[1] or quarrying, agriculture, helping in the parents' business, having one's own small business (for example selling food or apparrel), or doing odd jobs. Some children work as guides for tourists, sometimes combined with bringing in business for shops and restaurants (where they may also work as waiters). Other children are forced to do tedious and repetitive jobs such as assembling boxes, polishing shoes, stocking a store's products, or cleaning. However, rather than in factories and sweatshops, most child labor occurs in the informal sector, "selling on the street, at work in agriculture or hidden away in houses — far from the reach of official labor inspectors and from media scrutiny."[2]

According to the International Labour '''Organization'', there are an estimated 218 million children aged 5 to 17 in child labor worldwide, excluding child domestic labor.[3] The most widely rejected forms of child labor include the military use of children as well as child prostitution. Less controversial, and often legal with some restrictions, are work as child actors and child singers, as well as agricultural work outside of the school year (seasonal work) and owning a businness while operating it out of school's hours.

Human rights

The United Nations and the International Labor Organization consider child labor exploitative,[4][5] with the UN stipulating, in article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that:

...States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.[5]

In most countries,[6] it is considered inappropriate or exploitative if a child below a certain age works, excluding household chores or schoolwork. An employer is often not allowed to hire a child below a certain age. This minimum age depends on the country; child labor laws in the United States set the minimum age to work in an establishment without parents' consent and restrictions at age 16.

In the Industrial Revolution, children as young as four were employed in production factories with dangerous, and often fatal, working conditions.[7] Based on this understanding of the use of children as labourers, it is now considered by wealthy countries to be a human rights violation, and is outlawed, while some poorer countries may allow or tolerate it.

In the 1990s every country in the world except for Somalia and the United States became a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC. The CRC provides the strongest, most consistent international legal language prohibiting illegal child labour; however it does not make child labour illegal.

History in industrialised countries

in the industrialised countries there was the history other.

Current situation in poor countries

Poor families often rely on the labors of their children for survival, and sometimes it is their only source of income. This type of work is often hidden away because it is not always in the industrial sector. Child labor is employed in subsistence agriculture and in the urban informal sector; child domestic work is also important. In order to benefit children, child labor prohibition has to address the dual challenge of providing them with both short-term income and long-term prospects. Some youth rights groups, however, feel that prohibiting work below a certain age violates human rights, reducing children's options and leaving them subject to the whims of those with money. The reasons a child would consent or want to work may vary greatly. A child may consent to work if, for example, the earnings are attractive or if the child hates school, but such consent may not be informed consent. The workplace may still be an undesirable situation for a child in the long run.

In an influential paper on "The Economics of Child Labor" in the American Economic Review (1998), Kaushik Basu and Pham Huang Van argue that the primary cause of child labor is parental poverty. That being so, they caution against the use of a legislative ban against child labor, and argue that that should be used only when there is reason to believe that a ban on child labor will cause adult wages to rise and so compensate adequately the households of the poor children.

Child labor is still widely used today in many countries, including Bangladesh. Even though country law states that no child under the age of 14 may work, this law is ignored. Children as young as 11 go to work for up to 20 hours a day in sweatshops making items for US companies, such as Hanes, Wal-mart, and Target. They get paid as little as 6 and a half cents per item. One of the largest companies in Bangladesh is Harvest Rich, who claim not to use child labor.

Campaigns against child labor

File:Abolish child slavery.jpg

Two girls wearing banners with slogan "ABOLISH CHILD SLAVERY!!" in English and Yiddish. Probably taken during May 1 1909 labor parade in New York City.

Concern has been raised about the buying public's moral complicity in purchasing products assembled or otherwise manufactured in developing countries with child labor. Others have raised concerns that boycotting products manufactured through child labor may force these children to turn to more dangerous or strenuous professions, such as prostitution or agriculture. For example, a UNICEF study found that 5,000 to 7,000 Nepalese children turned to prostitution after the United States banned that country's carpet exports in the 1990s. Also, after the Child Labor Deterrence Act was introduced in the US, an estimated 50,000 children were dismissed from their garment industry jobs in Bangladesh, leaving many to resort to jobs such as "stone-crushing, street hustling, and prostitution," -- all of them, according to a UNICEF study.[2] "more hazardous and exploitative than garment production". The study says that boycotts are "blunt instruments with long-term consequences, that can actually harm rather than help the children involved."

Today there are several industries and corporations which are being targeted by activists for their use of child labor.

On 21st November 2005 a big raid on factories employing child labour in zari work in Delhi was mounted by Junned Khan, an activist with the help of Police, Delhi Labour Department and an NGO Pratham. During this rescue operation nearly 480 children were rescued who ranged between aged 6 years to 14 years. This world's largest rescue operation opened the eyes of the government and civil society towards the ills of child labour and how small children are kept in bonded conditions within the four walls of a factory.

Recent child labor incidents

The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company operate a rubber plantation in Liberia which is the focus of a global campaign called Stop Firestone. Workers on the plantation are expected to fulfill a high production quota or their wages will be halved. As a result, many workers are forced to bring children to work. The International Labor Rights Fund filed a lawsuit against Firestone (The International Labor Fund vs. The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company) in November 2005 on behalf of current child laborers and their parents who had also been child laborers on the plantation. On June 26, 2007, the judge in this lawsuit in Indianapolis, Indiana denied Firestone's motion to dismiss the case and allowed the lawsuit to proceed on child labor claims.

A UK investigative report in October of 2007 found children as young as nine working sixteen to nineteen hours a day without pay in India producing Gap for Kids clothing. One child, Jivaj, from West Bengal told The Observer that some of the boys in the sweatshop had been badly beaten. 'Our hours are hard and violence is used against us if we don't work hard enough. This is a big order for abroad, they keep telling us that. 'Last week, we spent four days working from dawn until about one o'clock in the morning the following day. I was so tired I felt sick,' he whispers, tears streaming down his face. 'If any of us cried we were hit with a rubber pipe. Some of the boys had oily cloths stuffed in our mouths as punishment.'[8]

On October 28, Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America, responded, "We strictly prohibit the use of child labor. This is a non-negotiable for us – and we are deeply concerned and upset by this allegation. As we’ve demonstrated in the past, Gap has a history of addressing challenges like this head-on, and our approach to this situation will be no exception. In 2006, Gap Inc. ceased business with 23 factories due to code violations. We have 90 people located around the world whose job is to ensure compliance with our Code of Vendor Conduct. As soon as we were alerted to this situation, we stopped the work order and prevented the product from being sold in stores. While violations of our strict prohibition on child labor in factories that produce product for the company are extremely rare, we have called an urgent meeting with our suppliers in the region to reinforce our policies.

Milton Friedman's Defense of Child Labor


Child laborer, New Jersey, 1910. Click image for more background on the specific child.

Children's participation in economic activity was commonplace prior to the Industrial Revolution as children performed labor on their farms or for their families. The economist Milton Friedman, author of the phrase Miracle of Chile and educator of the economists at the University of Chicago, popularly referred to as the Chicago Boys, claimed that the Industrial Revolution saw a net decline in child labor, rather than an increase.[9] He claimed this to be supported both by both economic theory, referred to by some journalists as Market fundamentalism, and empirical evidence.[10][11] According to Friedman's theory, before the Industrial Revolution virtually all children worked in agriculture. During the Industrial Revolution many of these children moved from farm work to factory work. Over time, as real wages rose, parents became able to afford to send their children to school instead of work and as a result child labor declined, both before and after legislation.

However, the British historian and socialist E.P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class draws a qualitative distinction between child domestic work and participation in the wider (waged) labor-market.[7] Further, the usefulness of the experience of the industrial revolution in making predictions about current trends has been disputed. Economic historian Hugh Cunningham, author of Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500, notes that:

"Fifty years ago it might have been assumed that, just as child labour had declined in the developed world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so it would also, in a trickle-down fashion, in the rest of the world. Its failure to do that, and its re-emergence in the developed world, raise questions about its role in any economy, whether national or global."[11]

Big Bill Haywood, a leading labor organizer and leader of the Western Federation of Miners and a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World famously claimed "the worst thief is he who steals the playtime of children!" [12]

Yet Friedman's theory posited that the absence of child labor is a luxury that many poor states cannot yet afford, and that to prohibit it is to prevent the overall economic growth necessary to eventually relieve a society of the need for child labor. In poor societies he claimed that children will be put to work by their families by whatever means necessary. Moreover, in addition to possibly increasing family costs on a depleted family income, in the absence of a public school program, parents may have to forego potential labor time and income, to care for their children.[9]

According to Thomas DeGregori, an economics professor at the University of Houston, in an article published by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank operating in Washington D.C., "it is clear that technological and economic change are vital ingredients in getting children out of the workplace and into schools. Then they can grow to become productive adults and live longer, healthier lives. However, in poor countries like Bangladesh, working children are essential for survival in many families, as they were in our own heritage until the late 19th century. So, while the struggle to end child labor is necessary, getting there often requires taking different routes -- and, sadly, there are many political obstacles."[13].

See also


International conventions and other instruments:

  • Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999
  • Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation


  1. Child labor in Kyrgyz coal mines. BBC News. URL accessed on 2007-08-25.
  2. 2.0 2.1 The State of the World's Children 1997. UNICEF. URL accessed on 2007-04-15.
  3. ILO - Child labor
  4. Worst Forms of Child labor Recommendation, 1999. International labor Organization. URL accessed on 2006-10-05.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Convention on the Rights of the Child. United Nations. URL accessed on 2006-10-05.
  6. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. URL accessed on 2006-10-05.
  7. 7.0 7.1 E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, (Penguin, 1968), pp. 366-7
  9. 9.0 9.1 Friedman, Milton. Take it to the Limits: Milton Friedman on Libertarianism." Interview. February 10 1999.<>
  10. Nardinelli, Clark. "Child Labor and the Factory Acts." Journal of Economic History, Dec. 1980.<>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hugh Cunningham, "The Employment and Unemployment of Children in England c.1680-1851." Past and Present. Feb., 1990 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "cunningham" defined multiple times with different content
  12. WOBBLIES! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the world edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman p.294.
  13. DeGregori, Thomas R., "Child Labor or Child Prostitution?" Cato Institute.

External links

{{enWP|Child labor]]