Child Labour

Child labour is one of the topic that presents strong emotions, beliefs
and opinions. Most people are opposed to the involvement of children in labour
force activities when they are at an age when other activities, such as
education and play, should be the central role in development. However, child
labour represents an extremely difficult and complex issue which often extends
beyond emotions, beliefs and opinions. Much of this has to do with the
understanding that a wide variety of factors, such as economic, cultural, social,
political and legal concerns, are part of any child labour problems as well as
the solution to these problems. With this in mind, the purpose of this paper
will be to discuss the issue of child labour on a national and an international
scale. This will not only include an evaluation of it prominence and any
problems that are associated with the use of child labour, but also an
examination of the efforts that are being made to discourage national and
foreign markets who employ children.
In many respects, the issue of child labour on a national scale, at
least from a Canadian perspective, is one that is quite limited. Much of this
has to do with the fact that a significant amount of powerful legislation and
enforcement of this legislation is available. For example, the Ontario
Employment Standards Act states that individuals under the age of 18 must be
paid a minimum of $6.40 per hour1. Furthermore, through the Ontario Occupational
Health and Safety Act, regulations have been created which allow for a minimum
age of 16 for logging activities, 15 for factory activities other than logging,
and 14 for activities other than factory work2.
Unfortunately, an examination of child labour on an international scale
reveals the extent to which this situation exists, as well as the degree to
which problems can arise. "A systematic estimate, undertaken in 1985, calculated
around 31 million street children worldwide, of whom 71 percent were child
workers living at home, 23 percent kept occasional family contact, and 8 percent
were entirely separated"3.
While the number of child workers is significant, it is equally apparent
that the reasons why they are involved in employment can attributed to a number
of specific causal factors. "It is almost universally accepted that poverty is
the main cause of child work in developing countries"4 . However, while poverty
is an important causal factor, it is often the case that it is not the only
factor. For example, some studies have indicated that some child workers "...are
from relatively affluent families, and engage in the business for excitement and
pocket money"5. This would seem to suggest that "...cultural and economic
factors here interact in complex ways to encourage child work and need to be
understood together"6.
An examination of existing trends regarding child labour often reveals
contradictory and even disturbing developments. More specifically, official data
from most countries have shown "...a gradual, long-term decline in child labour,
but many experts assert that recent economic crisis in the developing countries
has led to an upsurge in juvenile workers"7. Even though child labour is
primarily found in developing countries, and that this can be largely attributed
to the economic, social and cultural environment, there is some indication of a
resurgence in this activity in industrialized countries. Much of this activity
also happens to be everywhere and familiar, such as a child who shines shoes for
a living, who is at home tending younger children or who is helping in a family
farm and business working such long hours that it is impossible to play or even
attend school. If anything, this emphasizes that much of the attention that has
been focused on child labour has dealt with the problems that can arise. Here we
find that "...the potential for gross exploitation and loss of childhood is
considerable. Economic exploitation leaves the young worker in an extremely
vulnerable situation"8.
Given the problems that can occur as a result of the use of child labour,
this immediately focuses attention on what is being done to discourage national
and foreign markets who employ children. In light of the prominence of economic
factors in the cause of the problems associated with child labour, it is not
unusual to find that solutions are often directed this way as well. This refers
to the fact that "...some have claimed that the best way to deal with child
labour is to stimulate rapid and broad-reaching economic expansion that will
create ample adult employment, rendering child work superfluous"9. Attempts to
implement change in this way involve instruments such as economic policies and
regulations, especially wage and price policies.