Child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organisations. Legislations across the world

prohibit child labour These laws do not consider all work by children as child labour; exceptions include work by child artists, supervised training, certain categories of work such as those by Amish children, and others. Child labour was employed to varying extents through most of history. Before 1940, numerous children aged 5–14 worked in Europe, the United States and

various colonies of European powers. These children worked in agriculture, home-based assembly operations, factories, mining and in services such as newsies. Some worked night shifts lasting 12 hours. With the rise of household income, availability of schools and passage of child labour laws, the incidence rates of child labour fell. In developing countries, with

high poverty and poor schooling opportunities, child labour is still prevalent. In 2010, sub-saharan Africa had the highest incidence rates of child labour, with several African nations witnessing over 50 percent of children aged 5–14 working. Worldwide agriculture is the largest employer of child labour. Vast majority of child labour is found in rural settings and informal urban economy;

children are predominantly employed by their parents, rather than factories. Poverty and lack of schools are considered as the primary cause of child labour. The incidence of child labour in the world decreased from 25% to 10% between 1960 and 2003, according to the World Bank

During the Industrial Revolution, children as young as four were employed in production factories with dangerous, and often fatal, working conditions. 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 child labour. Child labour can also be defined as the full-time employment of children who are under a minimum legal age.

The Victorian era became notorious for employing young children in factories

and mines and as chimney sweeps. Child labour played an important role in the Industrial Revolution from its outset, often brought about by economic hardship. Charles Dickens for example worked at the age of 12 in a blacking factory, with his family in debtor's prison. The children of the poor were expected to help towards the family

budget, often working long hours in dangerous jobs for low pay, earning 10-20% of an adult male's wage. In England and Scotland in 1788, two-thirds of the workers in 143 waterpowered cotton mills were described as children. In 19th-century Great Britain, one-third of poor families were without a breadwinner,

as a result of death or abandonment, obliging many children to work from a young age. In coal mines, children would crawl through tunnels too narrow and low for adults. Children also worked as errand boys, crossing sweepers, shoe blacks, or selling matches, flowers and

other cheap goods. Some children undertook work as apprentices to respectable trades, such as building or as domestic servants (there were over 120,000 domestic servants in London in the mid-18th century). Working hours were long: builders worked 64 hours a week in summer and 52 in winter, while domestic servants

worked 80 hour weeks.

Early 1900s
In the early 1900s, thousands of boys were employed in glass making industries. Glass making was a dangerous and tough job especially without the current technologies. The process of making glass includes intense

heat to melt glass (3133 °F). When the boys are at work, they are exposed to this heat. This could cause eye trouble, lung aliments, heat exhaustion, cut, and burns. Since workers were paid by the piece, they had to work productively for hours without a break. Since furnaces had to be constantly burning, there were night shifts from

5:00 pm to 3:00 am Many factory owners preferred boys under 16 years of age. Children as young as three were put to work. A high number of children also worked as prostitutes. Many children (and adults) worked 16-hour days. As early as 1802 and 1819 Factory Acts were passed to regulate the working hours of workhouse

children in factories and cotton mills to 12 hours per day. These acts were largely ineffective and after radical agitation, by for example the "Short Time Committees" in 1831, a Royal Commission recommended in 1833 that children aged 11–18 should work a maximum of 12 hours per day, children aged 9–11 a maximum of eight hours, and

children under the age of nine were no longer permitted to work. This act however only applied to the textile industry, and further agitation led to another act in 1847 limiting both adults and children to 10-hour working days. An estimated 1.7 million children under the age of fifteen were employed in American industry by 1900.

In 1910, over 2 million children in the same age group were employed in the United States. This included children who rolled cigarettes, [25] engaged in factory work, worked as bobbin doffers in textile mills, worked in coal mines and were employed in canneries.[26] Lewis Hine's photographs of child labourers in the 1910s

powerfully evoked the plight of working children in the American south. Hines took these photographs between 1908 and 1917 as staff photographer for the National Child Labour Committee.

Household enterprises
Factories and mines were not the only place where child labour was prevalent in early

20th century. Home-based manufacturing across the United States and Europe employed children in tedious work. Poverty and misery were commonplace. Governments and reformers argued that labour in factories must be regulated and the state had an obligation to provide welfare for poor. Ironically, legislation that

followed had an opposite effect. Work moved out of factories into urban homes. Families and women in particular preferred it because it allowed them to generate income while taking care of household duties. Home-based manufacturing operations were active year round. Families willingly deployed their children in

these income generating home enterprises.[27] In many cases, men worked from home. In France, over 58 percent of garment workers operated out of their homes; in Germany, the number of full-time home operations nearly doubled between 1882 to 1907; and in the United States, millions of families operated out of home

seven days a week, year round to produce garments, shoes, artificial flowers, feathers, match boxes, toys, umbrellas and other products. Children aged 5–14 worked alongside the parents. Homebased operations and child labour in Australia, Britain, Austria and other parts of the world was common. Rural areas similarly saw families

deploying their children in agriculture. In 1946, Frieda Miller - then Director of United States Department of Labour - told the International Labour Organisation that these home-based operations offered, "low wages, long hours, child labour, unhealthy and insanitary working conditions."

Colonial empires

Systematic use of child labour was common place in the colonies of European powers between 1650 to 1950. In Africa, colonial administrators encouraged traditional kin-ordered modes of production, that is hiring a household for work not just the adults. Millions of children worked in colonial

agricultural plantations, mines and domestic service industries.[32][33] Sophisticated schemes were promulgated where children in these colonies between the ages of 5-14 were hired as apprentice without pay in exchange for learning a craft. A system of Pauper Apprenticeship came into practice in 19th century

where the colonial master neither needed the native parents' nor child's approval to assign a child to labour, away from parents, at a distant farm owned by a different colonial master.[34] Other schemes included 'earn-and-learn' programs where children would work and thereby learn. Britain for example passed a law, the

so-called Masters and Servants Act of 1899, followed by Tax and Pass Law, to encourage child labour in colonies particularly in Africa. These laws offered the native people the legal ownership to some of the native land in exchange for making labour of wife and children available to colonial government's needs such as

in farms and as picannins. Beyond laws, new taxes were imposed on colonies. One of these taxes was the Head Tax in British and French colonial empires. The tax was imposed on everyone older than 8 years, in some colonies. To pay these taxes and cover living expenses, children in colonial households had to

work.[35][36][37] In southeast Asian colonies, such as Hong Kong, child labour such as the Mui Tsai (妹仔), was rationalised as a cultural tradition and ignored by British authorities.[38][39] The Dutch East India Company officials rationalised their child labour abuses with, "it is a way to save these children from a

worse fate." Christian mission schools in regions stretching from Zambia to Nigeria too required work from children, and in exchange provided religious education, not secular education.[32] Elsewhere, the Canadian Dominion Statutes in form of so-called Breaches of Contract Act, stipulated jail terms for

uncooperative child workers.

Proposals to regulate child labour began as early as 1786. 21st century Child labour is still common in many parts of the world. Estimates for child labour vary. It ranges between 250

to 304 million, if children aged 5–17 involved in any economic activity are counted. If light occasional work is excluded, ILO estimates there were 153 million child labourers aged 5–14 worldwide in 2008. This is about 20 million less than ILO estimate for child labourers in 2004. Some 60 percent of the child labour

was involved in agricultural activities such as farming, dairy, fisheries and forestry. Another 25 percent of child labourers were in service activities such as retail, hawking goods, restaurants, load and transfer of goods, storage, picking and recycling trash, polishing shoes, domestic help, and other services. The

remaining 15 percent laboured in assembly and manufacturing in informal economy, home-based enterprises, factories, mines, packaging salt, operating machinery, and such operations.[43][44][45] Two out of three child workers work along side their parents, in unpaid family work situations. Some

children work as guides for tourists, sometimes combined with bringing in business for shops and restaurants. Child labour predominantly occurs in the rural areas (70%) and informal urban sector (26%). Contrary to popular beliefs, most child labourers are employed by their parents rather than in manufacturing

or formal economy. Children who work for pay or in-kind compensation are usually found in rural settings, than urban centers. Less than 3 percent of child labour aged 5–14 across the world work outside of their household, or away from their parents.[13] Child labour accounts for 22% of the workforce in Asia, 32% in Africa, 17% in Latin

America, 1% in US, Canada, Europe and other wealthy nations.[46] The proportion of child labourers varies greatly among countries and even regions inside those countries. Africa has the highest percentage of children aged 5–17 employed as child labour, and a total of over 65 million. Asia, with its larger

population, has the largest number of children employed as child labour at about 114 million. Latin America and Caribbean region has lower overall population density, but at 14 million child labourers has high incidence rates too. Accurate present day child labour information is difficult to obtain because of

disagreements between data sources as to what constitutes child labour? In some countries, government policy contributes to this difficulty. For example, the overall extent of child labour in China is unclear due to the government categorizing child labour data as “highly secret”.[48] China has enacted regulations to

prevent child labour; still, the practice of child labour is reported to be a persistent problem within China, generally in agriculture and low-skill service sectors as well as small workshops and manufacturing enterprises.

Maplecroft Child Labour Index 2012 survey[51] reports 76 countries pose

extreme child labour complicity risks for companies operating worldwide. The ten highest risk countries in 2012, ranked in decreasing order, were: Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, DR Congo, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Burundi, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Of the major growth economies,

Maplecroft ranked Philippines 25th riskiest, India 27th, China 36th, Viet Nam 37th, Indonesia 46th, and Brazil 54th - all of them rated to involve extreme risks of child labour uncertainties, to corporations seeking to invest in developing world and import products from emerging markets.

Causes of child labour primary causes

International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggests poverty is the greatest single cause behind child labour.[14] For impoverished households, income from a child's work is usually crucial for his or her own survival or

for that of the household. Income from working children, even if small, may be between 25 to 40% of these household income. Other scholars such as Harsch on African child labour, and Edmonds and Pavcnik on global child labour have reached the same conclusion.

Lack of meaningful

alternatives, such as affordable schools and quality education, according to ILO, [14] is another major factor driving children to harmful labour. Children work because they have nothing better to do. Many communities, particularly rural areas where between 60-70% of child labour is prevalent, do not possess adequate school

facilities. Even when schools are sometimes available, they are too far away, difficult to reach, unaffordable or the quality of education is so poor that parents wonder if going to school is really worth it Cultutral causes

In European history when child labour was common, as well as in contemporary child

labour of modern world, certain cultural beliefs have rationalised child labour and thereby encouraged it. Some view that work is good for the character-building and skill development of children. In many cultures, particular where informal economy and small household businesses thrive, the cultural tradition is that children follow in their

parents' footsteps; child labour then is a means to learn and practice that trade from a very early age. Similarly, in many cultures the education of girls is less valued or girls are simply not expected to need formal schooling, and these girls pushed into child labour such as providing domestic services

Macroeconomic causes

Biggeri and Mehrotra have studied the macroeconomic factors that encourage child labour. They focus their study on five Asian nations including India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines. They suggest[59] that child labour

is a serious problem in all five, but it is not a new problem. Macroeconomic causes encouraged widespread child labour across the world, over most of human history. They suggest that the causes for child labour include both the demand and the supply side. While poverty and

unavailability of good schools explain the child labour supply side, they suggest that the growth of low paying informal economy rather than higher paying formal economy is amongst the causes of the demand side. Other scholars too suggest that inflexible labour market, sise

of informal economy, inability of industries to scale up and lack of modern manufacturing technologies are major macroeconomic factors affecting demand and acceptability of child labour.

Child labour laws and initiatives

Almost every country in the world has laws relating to and aimed at preventing child labour. International Labour Organisation has helped set international law, which most countries have signed on and ratified. According to ILO minimum age convention (C138) of 1973, child labour refers to any work performed by children under the age of 12, non-light work done

by children aged 12–14, and hazardous work done by children aged 15–17. Light work was defined, under this Convention, as any work that does not harm a child's health and development, and that does not interfere with his or her attendance at school. This convention has been ratified by 135 countries. The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the

Child in 1990, which was subsequently ratified by 193 countries.[63] Article 32 of the convention addressed child labour, as follows: ...Parties recognise 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.[4] Under Article 1 of the 1990 Convention, a child is defined as "... every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." Article 28 of this Convention requires States to, "make primary education compulsory and available free to all."[4]

Three countries yet to domestically ratify the 1990 Convention include Somalia, South Sudan and the United States.[64][65] In 1999, ILO helped lead the Worst Forms Convention 182 (C182),[66] which has so far

been signed upon and domestically ratified by 151 countries including the United States. This international law

prohibits worst forms of child labour, defined as all forms of slavery and slavery-like practices, such as child trafficking, debt bondage, and forced labour, including forced recruitment of children into armed conflict. The law also prohibits use of a child for prostitution or the production of pornography, child labour in illicit activities such as drug

production and trafficking; and in hazardous work. In addition to setting the international law, the United Nations initiated International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) in 1992. [67] This initiative aims to progressively eliminate child labour through strengthening national capacities to address some of the causes of child

labour. Amongst the key initiative is the so-called time bounded program countries, where child labour is most prevalent and schooling opportunities lacking. The initiative seeks to achieve amongst other things, universal primary school availability. The IPEC has expanded to at least the following target countries:

Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Nepal, Tanzania, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Philippines, Senegal, South Africa and Turkey.

Exceptions granted

In 2004, the United States passed an amendment to the Fair Labour Standards Act of 1938. The amendment allows certain children aged 14–18 to work in or outside a business where machinery is used to process wood.[68] The law aims to respect the religious and cultural needs of the Amish community of the United States. The Amish

believe that one effective way to educate children is on the job.[6] The new law allows Amish children the ability to work with their families, once they are past eighth grade in school. Similarly, in 1996, member countries of the European Union, per Directive 94/33/EC,[7] agreed to a number of exceptions for

young people in its child labour laws. Under these rules, children of various ages may work in cultural, artistic, sporting or advertising activities if authorised by competent authority. Children above the age of 13 may perform light work for a limited number of hours per week in other economic activities as defined at the

discretion of each country. Additionally, the European law exception allows children aged 14 years or over to work as part of a work/training scheme. The EU Directive clarified that these exceptions do not allow child labour where the children may experience harmful exposure to dangerous substances.

More laws or more freedom?
Scholars disagree on the best legal course forward to address child labour. Some suggest the need for laws that place a blanket ban on any work by children less than 18 years old. Others suggest the current international laws are enough, and the need for more engaging approach to achieve the ultimate goals.[71] Some scholars suggest any labour by children aged 18 year or less is wrong since this encourages

illiteracy, inhumane work and lower investment in human capital. Child labour, claim these activists, also leads to poor labour standards for adults, depresses the wages of adults in developing countries as well as the developed countries, and dooms the third world economies to low-skill jobs only capable of producing poor quality cheap exports. More children that work in poor countries, the fewer and worse-paid are the jobs for adults in these countries. In other

words, there are moral and economic reasons that justify a blanket ban on labour from children aged 18 years or less, everywhere in the world.[72][73] Other scholars suggest that these arguments are flawed, ignores history and more laws will do more harm than good. According to them, child labour is merely the symptom of a greater disease named poverty. If laws ban all lawful work that enables the poor to survive, informal economy, illicit

operations and underground businesses will thrive. These will increase abuse of the children. In poor countries with very high incidence rates of child labour such as Ethiopia, Chad, Niger and Nepal - schools are not available, and the few schools that exist offer poor quality education or are unaffordable. The alternatives for children who currently work, claim these studies, are worse: grinding subsistence farming, militia or prostitution. Child labour is not a

choice, it is a necessity, the only option for survival. It is currently the least undesirable of a set of very bad choices.[74][75] These scholars suggest, from their studies of economic and social data, that early 20th century child labour in Europe and the United States ended in large part as a result of economic development of formal regulated economy, technology development and general prosperity. Child labour laws and ILO conventions came

later. Edmonds suggests, even in contemporary times, incidence of child labour in Vietnam has rapidly reduced following economic reforms and GDP growth. These scholars suggest economic engagement, emphasis on opening quality schools rather than more laws, and expanding economically relevant skill development opportunities in the third world. International legal actions, such as trade sanctions increase child labour.[71][76][77]


"The Incredible Bread Machine" a book published by "World Research, Inc." in 1974: "Child labor was a particular target of early reformers. William Cooke Tatlor wrote at the time about these reformers who, witnissing children ar work in the factories, thought to themselves: 'How much more delightful would have been the gambol of the free limbs on the hillside; the sight of the green mead with its spangles of

buttercups and daisies; the song of the bird and the humming bee...' But for many of these children the factory system meant quite literally the only chance for survival. Today we overlook the fact that death from starvation and exposure was a common fate before the Industrial Revolution, for the pre capitalist economy was barely able to support the population. Yes, children were working. Formerly they would have starved. It was only as goods were produced in

greater abundance at lower cost that men could support their families without sending their children to work. It was not the reformer or the politician that ended the grim necessity for child labor; it was capitalism."


Concerns have often been raised over the buying

public's moral complicity in purchasing products assembled or otherwise manufactured in developing countries with child labour. However, others have raised concerns that boycotting products manufactured through child labour may force these children to turn to more

dangerous or strenuous professions, such as prostitution or agriculture. For example, a UNICEF study found that after the Child Labour 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", jobs that are "more hazardous and exploitative than garment production". The study suggests that boycotts are "blunt instruments with long-term consequences, that can actually harm rather than

help the children involved."[45] According to Milton Friedman, 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 labour declined, both before and after legislation.[117] Austrian school economist Murray Rothbard said that British and American children of the pre- and post-Industrial

Revolution lived and suffered in infinitely worse conditions where jobs were not available for them and went "voluntarily and gladly" to work in factories.[118] 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) labour market.[16] Further, the usefulness of the experience of the industrial revolution in making predictions about current trends has been disputed. Social 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 reemergence in the developed world, raise questions about its role in any economy, whether national or global."[117] According to Thomas DeGregori, an economics professor at the University of Houston, in an article

published by the Cato Institute, a libertarian thinktank 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 labour is necessary, getting there often requires taking

different routes—and, sadly, there are many political obstacles.[119] The International Labour Organisation’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), founded in 1992, aims to eliminate child labour. It operates in 88 countries and is the largest

program of its kind in the world.[120] IPEC works with international and government agencies, NGOs, the media, and children and their families to end child labour and provide children with education and assistance.

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