In history class my freshman year, we were going over the industrial revolution when the teacher showed us pictures of small children covered in dirt working dangerous machines in factories. Trying to teach us the negative history of child labor, our teacher explained various incidents in which children were hurt on the job, over worked, underpaid, and largely unhappy. Because of this, I, along with many of my peers, walked away from class that day with the conclusion that all child labor is bad.
Sadly, many people share the same view point on child labor as my peers and I did after learning about it in history class and fail to see the other side of child labor; that child labor can actually be good. Despite the common misconception that child labor is immoral, situations exist in which child labor is beneficial and needed for areas across the world because it will lead to the consequences of having financial income to support the child’s family, help keep them off the streets, have a chance at a better future, and provide important work experience.
Despite the generalization that child labor is unhealthy, in many third world countries it is needed in order to financially support a family. In the article “Child Labor Pros and Cons”, the author discusses the importance of child labor in many families, saying, “In poor countries like Bangladesh, working children are essential for survival of many families” (1). In many areas in which child labor is common, financial stability is lacking. For example, Bangladesh, a third world country, legally employs children ages fourteen and up.
One main reason many children work in this country is to bring in income in order to help support their families. Without their financial support, families would be unable to afford housing, food, clothing, and other necessities that they are otherwise to purchase. Although working as a child is far from ideal, it helps both the child and their family to have what they need to live off. One major flaw in child labor is that when children are working, they are missing out on getting an education.
Being in factories, businesses, or office buildings instead of being at school is an issue for some children in third world countries because it means that they are not always able to receive the same amount of education as other children their ago who are not working. This poses as a problem because when the children are not able to get a full education, they also may not be able to further their education with college or a trade school.
As a result, these children will be forced to grow up with minimal choices of occupation. While in some cases labor takes away from the education of children, many people fail to see the entirety of this side of the debate, as this is not always the case. Author Amy Booth addresses the common misconception in her article “If You Don’t Work, You Don’t Study” when she quotes a young girl named Escarlet from the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia who has been working to help out her family since she was young.
Booth writes, “People also think that if you’re working, it means you can’t go to school, she says. But they’ve got it wrong. If you don’t work, there’s no money for uniforms, materials, food, nothing. If you don’t work, you don’t study” (qtd in 1). Booth goes on to explain Escarlet’s situation, elaborating that Escarlet campaigned for a law to lower the minimum age requirements from 14 to 10, “[as long as] that the work doesn’t interfere with their education and isn’t dangerous, unhealthy or illegal” (1).
Although in some cases working at a young age could potentially take away from the education of children, situations exist in which labor is essential to the education. Escarlet’s situation, for example, shows that working helped her to purchase the materials needed for schooling. Without this source of income, many children are not able to obtain the necessities for schooling. Consequentially, often times these children would be forced to stay at home or sadly on the streets getting into trouble such as drugs, alcohol, or other unhealthy behaviors.
All of these are unfortunately common in countries such as Bolivia. Fortunately, for a large group of children, the opportunity to be employed provides the access to education and a better, safer environment that helps kids stay off the streets. If the opportunity to work at a young age was taken away from children in poverty stricken areas, the chances at education would decrease exponentially. In many countries, child labor is necessary in order for a family to be able to afford a comfortable living space or lifestyle.
In the article “When Child Labor Is Ethical”, author Tim Mojonnier discusses his research regarding the benefits of child labor, saying, “Major corporations with overseas subcontractors have been criticized often with substantial negative publicity, when children as young as 10 have been found working in the subcontractor’s facilities. The standard response is to perform an audit and then enhance controls so it does not happen again. In one such case. a 10-year-old was fired” (qtd in 1).
Mojonnier elaborates that when large companies such as Nike, IKEA, and Unilever are faced with negative publicity due to their young workers, their general response it to simply fire the young workers. As a result, the families of these children lose a major source of income and are forced to make cuts to their everyday life. For example, one 10-year-old that was let go due to the company’s negative publicity consequentially lost his modest home and, “was left to scrounge in the local dump for scraps of metal” (qtd in 1).
While companies may have the children’s best interest in mind by firing them or have the reputation of the company in mind, the consequences on the child and the child’s family are far greater than one may think. Just like with any unexpected job loss for any age, losing a source of income can result in negative lifestyle changes. Sometimes, losing a job as a child could be the difference between having a safe place to come home to at night and sleeping on the streets. Another positive attribute of child labor that is often overlooked is the beneficial learning it can provide.
In the article “Regulated Child Labor Is Necessary in Developing countries”, author John J. Tierney talks about the International Labour Organization’s definition of child labor, writing, “According to the ILO (Convention No. 138), the term child labor generally refers to any economic activity performed by a person under the age of 15” (qtd. in 1). Tierney goes on to point out the problem with the generalization of child labor, stating, “Not all of this, of course, is harmful or exploitative. Certain types of work, such as apprenticeship or family-related chores after school, can be a formative and constructive learning experience” (1).
When the term “child labor” is given a general definition, many people just think of the unhealthy labor and fail to see that not all jobs are like that. Because the term is so broad, all child labor is frowned upon, not just some. One major misconception of child labor is how old some of the children are, as the term “child laborer” is any child under the age of fifteen. When looking closer at the age group, it is apparent that although some of the children are still young, there are children who are actually teenagers and are capable of doing a variety of jobs.
Similarly, many people fail to see that there are plenty of jobs for children that are not hazardous, such as helping with a family business, being an apprentice, or doing chores for others in the community. In fact, there is a plethora of jobs such as these that teach children useful skills that can be used in their future. For example, working as an apprentice for a carpenter or another type of craftsman would help children to learn how to do specific tasks and build things.
Regardless of the job, having children work has the benefit of teaching them useful skills that could be used the rest of their lives. Likewise, having a job in general helps children to develop strong work ethics. When the term “child labor” is generalized into one group, people fail to see that it is not always just small kids under age ten, but also includes children older who are more capable of handling work and can easily apply skills they learn in their jobs to other aspects in their life.