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Child Labor: a Perspective Essay Sample

Child Labor: a Perspective Pages
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The current world population stands at over 7 million, out of which around 26.3% is below the age of 15. According to International Labour Organization, more than 215 million children of this age group have been employed in various economic activities. Child Labour across the world ranges from petty domestic helps to workers in Hazardous industries and even prostitution. Its occurrence is widespread; however Asia and Africa have the highest incidence of Child labour (both in absolute and relative terms). The purpose of this paper is simple: to define what exactly child labour is, understand its prominence and underline what circumstances dictate its rise, both presently and in the past.


The problem of Child labour is a global phenomenon and its dimension is region specific. It is a challenge not just of underdeveloped and developing countries, but developed as well. We may define child Labour as Full time employment of children who are below a minimum legal age limit. To be more precise, child labour refers to the employment of children in regular and sustained labour. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organizations and is illegal in many countries.

Today, throughout the world, over 215 million children work, and a large proportion of this number as full-time workers. They do not go to school and have little or no time to play. Many do not receive proper nutrition or care. More than half of the aforementioned number are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, some of them being slavery, work in hazardous environments, illicit activities such as drug trafficking and prostitution and involvement in armed conflict.

We do not have proper statistics for child labour, since a lot of children work as domestic helps worldwide. For such activities, we cannot have an exact data, due to the thin line between ‘domestic work’ and ‘running errands’. Besides, people tend to withhold the information about their children working.

Around 115 million children under the legal age (assumed to be 18 years) are involved in what can easily be deemed as ‘hazardous work’, which threaten their safety and health. These activities include handling chemicals, carrying heavy loads, mining, quarrying and enduring long hours. The remaining 100 million child labourers are aged under 15 years( the International minimum age for legal employment), and are involved in work that, while not hazardous, are more substantial than the ‘permitted light work’.


Child labour, in essence, had always been present. However, the sudden increase in employment of children occurred during Industrial revolution. Children as young as eight years old used to be involved in long stretches of heavy labour work, ranging from 14 to 16 hours, with only an hour or so given for food breaks. Mistakes or late arrival used to yield punishments too severe for the children, so much so that they used to work for the fear of the same.

The Victorian era saw a massive hike in employment of children in factories and mines. The immigration of large number of people to larger, rapidly developing cities in search of jobs was not an uncommon feature. However, a lot of people lost their jobs as well, or were living in particularly dingy environment. Thus, the children of the poor were expected to give a hand for raising family budget, and had to put in the long hours of work. In 19th Century Great Britain, one-third of the poor families did not have a bread winner (due to death, accident or abandonment), obliging many children to work from a young age. Children were forced to work in coal mines which were too narrow for adults to access, or in other works that required the nimbleness, dexterity and smaller physique that the adults didn’t possess. However, this wasn’t without consequences.

Children were employed as chimney sweepers, textile factory employees, street vendors and coal miners. However, the work was hazardous, especially in case of chimney sweeping and coal mining. The children were required to enter closed areas to accomplish their tasks. However, sometimes the children got stuck, or inhaled toxic debri, which led to many fatalities and even death.

A letter to The Times in 1849 reported on the attempt of “an old man dressed in the garb of a gentleman” to accost a young girl. He apparently “asked her to go with him to a house in Oxenden-street”, and, as the letter writer comments, “you can easily conjecture the object.” At the insistence of the writer, a Constable warned the girl and suggested she go home “but in a few moments afterwards we observed the hoary old sinner already referred to in hot chase after his prey.” The Police Constable, “behaved with exceeding propriety, and appeared to be quite alive to the grossness of the affair, but he said he had no right to interfere.”

The above mentioned is a summarized article that shows sexual abuse of a 10 year old child. Despite the window dressing and overlooking of the children involved in prostitution during those times, fact remains that the sexual exploitation and trafficking for commercial sex of children raged in Victorian Era. However, it is difficult to determine child labour in countries due to the fact that different customs prevail in different countries at different times, changing the meaning of the word ‘minor’. Children were viewed as commodities, even by their own parents, who ‘pimped’ them out for monetary gain. The ‘Gentlemen’ would pay hefty amounts for little girls. The virgin girls were especially high priced. The ‘Deflowering’ ceremonies such as sale of ‘Mizuage’ amongst Japanese was common, however instead of it being a sort of ‘ceremony’ as with Geisha in Japan and Devadasi in India, this was solely for sake of pleasure of the buyer.

Also, the belief that Sexually transmitted diseases like Syphilis can be cured by sleeping with a virgin was also prevalent. Even today, a lot of child molestation cases in India happen due to the aforementioned fad. The extent at which the ‘gentlemen’ demanded minors has been exhibited in the novel ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov (1955), where the narrator has sexual interest in ‘Nymphets’, girls which were aged between 9 and 14 years. The narrator has unabashedly described his involvement with a prostitute who was a ‘nymphet’, until she grew older, and going to brothel in search of younger girls, only to leave in disgust since the youngest girl he could find was fifteen year old. In Paris, during the Victorian era itself, street children survived by means of theft or prostitution, brothels contained children exclusively, and of nearly 2,600 prostitutes arrested, 1,500 were minors.

According to estimates, by the year 1900, 1.7 million children were employed in Americas alone, a number which grew to 2 million within the next decade. The high demand of child labour can be attributed to the view of the employers then. Until a quarter of a century ago, the ‘traditional view’ of child labour remained unchallenged. People believed that industrialization led to unprecedented utilization and exploitation of children, and production of working condition that almost equaled slavery. The extent till which this misconception prevailed can easily be discerned from this statement by a South Carolina mill owner in 1914,

“We cannot possibly gravitate from a condition of agriculturalism to a condition of industrialism without the employment of minors.”


Child labour has been observed to foster more in developing and underdeveloped nations than developed ones. The percentage of children (in relative terms) in workforce within particular regions can be seen below

The graph above clearly shows that Africa and Asia have child labour far deeply rooted. The African nations by far have highest percentage of children in within work force, since the top child-employing nations (being Guinea-Bissau at 57 percent, Ethiopia at 53 percent and Chad at 48 percent and several others) are in Africa itself.

In Asia, countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal and other developing nations have a high proportion of children working. For instance, the Carpet Industry in India 10 years ago employed 75, 000 to 100, 000 children. Today, the industry has tripled with a corresponding increase in children employed with the numbers reaching 300, 000 plus. At the same time, the industry employs 1 million children in Pakistan. The practice of using children has not diminished either. As a matter of fact, UNICEF and UNFPDA estimate that over two million children are exploited due to sexual trafficking and pornography. UNICEF also estimated 60, 000 children working as prostitutes in Philippines and as many as 200 brothels in Los Angeles employ minors. In India itself, around 1.2 million children are working as child prostitutes. Jobs like as coal miners and agricultural help are equally hazardous.

Children are also involved in milder, but no less tiring, work like as domestic help. An emerging form of child labour can be seen in civil distress and wars. The children are raised to become soldiers, as was seen during the unrest in Cote D’Ivoire. Weapons such as AK- 47 rifles can easily be used even by a 10 year old. More often than not, children are terrorized or coerced into joining as soldiers. This is not new; for centuries children have been involved in military campaigns: as child ratings on warships, or as drummer boys on the battlefields of Europe. What is frightening nowadays is the escalation in the use of children as fighters. Recently, in 25 countries, thousands of children under the age of 16 have fought in wars. In 1988 alone, they numbered as many as 200,000.

It is interesting to note that leaving a few exceptions (such as India), most countries have a larger number of boys involved in economic activity. This is because the girls are mostly forced into doing household chores. While the economic activities in most nations don’t show a vast difference in the number of boys and girls working (both paid and unpaid), the difference is staggering in case of household. In case of India, the number of girls working is high both in case of economic activities and household chores more than 4 hours.

The effects of child labour are not just limited to physiological, but mental dimensions as well. Working in closed quarters like children have to in carpet industries and bangle works in India (due to the fact that they have nimble fingers) results in changes in skeletal system. The children in bangle works often lose their eyesight because they have to constantly work in fire within dingy rooms, and may have respiratory diseases due to breathing in of glass dust. Similar effects can be seen in case of mining, chemical industries and agriculture. As stated previously, children are forced into mines where adults can’t reach to work. But there is a high probability of them getting stuck; a lot of bodies are pulled out of such areas when children die of suffocation or pure fright. The toxic gases, insecticides, pesticides have resulted in high fatalities over past couple of years.

Children involved in sexual exploitation, commercial or otherwise, are in risk or catching sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS. Girls face an early pregnancy risk, and younger boys involved face injuries. This may also result in death, as sometimes the children are not physically equipped for sexual relations, resulting in internal damage. Their mental health also gets affected, the children in such activities never get a chance to live proper childhood, and suffer through trauma. Pornography also provides for a large proportion of child exploitation. The varied levels on which films are made turn gruesome with each step, increasing the amount of pain inflicted on these children.

The implication is not just limited to the children, but the economy as a whole as well. As it is, the children are employed at a wage rate lower than the normal. That does not reflect well in the economic picture of a country itself. Also, the children today will turn into economically productive adult tomorrow. However, the children who are forced to work grow up into sickly adults who cannot contribute to the economy either. They tend to face emotional and intellectual repercussions which are not exactly good for the economy.


The most important question that arises in this situation is why are children forced into working at a tender age? Rapid industrialization in the third world countries is one of the reasons behind child labour in these areas. Poverty, debt trap and overpopulation have served as the main villains of the society in many ways, and this is no exception. Parents often pledge their children off to creditors, so children can work their debt off. Also, parents often force children to work in hazardous jobs. For instance in Colombia children have to work in land mines as their parents believe that they are ideal to slip in or go through narrow passageways. Trafficking of children, especially girls, is also prevalent for domestic or commercial sex purposes when the parents run low on money. Overpopulation puts a rather high amount of pressure on resources, leaving families short on sustenance. This forces children to work for earning those resources rather than self development.

Illiteracy and unawareness amongst parents is also an important factor. The family practice to inculcate the child with traditional skills often pulls children into child labour, as they can’t learn anything else. Adult unemployment and urbanization are contributing factors as well. Also, due to the fact that hiring child labour is cheaper, factories prefer to employ children over adults, thus effectively forcing even parents to make their children do job.

Robert Weissman (1997) has made another interesting observation; he states that child labour can exist only where it is culturally and politically acceptable. He takes examples of China and Kerela, where Political and socio-economic measures have virtually abolished child labour. Prejudices against ostracized population also serve as a major contributor to child labour. He also blames attitude of parents towards women and girls for increase in child labour. According to him, parents sell their daughters off as they don’t wish to take burden of their daughters, or are just using them as money mints.

Globalization is also one major contributor to child labour. The market wants less cost of production, which they get by employing child labour; children work at low wages, do overtime and take no extra pay for it. International business giants such as Nike, Reebok and Victoria’s Secret have been criticized for using child labour for cutting production costs. These MNCs can’t use child labour especially in their home country since it is prohibited, making the third world nations a cheap option. They fail to notice that the negative externalities involved are far greater than the benefits they reap.


Corporations, especially MNCs, are well known for employing child labour to cut down on production costs. Victoria’s Secret, a well known clothes and fashion merchandising company, doesn’t appear to overtly use child labour. But reports from African cotton farms suggest that the raw materials imported by company heavily involve child labour. Despite knowing this fact, Victoria’s secret has apparently washed its hand from the case by claiming to know nothing, yet continuing the imports without taking a single course of action for upliftment of children involved.

The retail giant WalMart, is not just known for cheap price commodities and black Fridays, but apparently for its involvement in child labour. The employees, including the children, mostly operate sweatshops in Saipan, China and Nicaragua that manufacture most of the clothes sold in their stores. People in the stores work for ten hours a day and seven days a week and are paid as low as twelve cents. They are unable to complain at all. The children are often strip searched for food or water being brought in to prevent them from soiling the clothes from the food and water. They are often hungry and dehydrated and are forced to work overtime without pay; it is considered as volunteer pay.

Sports companies like Reebok and Nike have always been surrounded by this controversy. These companies employ children and adults from Pakistan, Punjab and surrounding regions for making shoes and other sports commodities. Since their home country, U.S.A, has strict laws against child labour, they turn to such countries where there are either no rules, or poorly executes ones, against child labour.

While the aforementioned cases give us a sad picture of how corporate have themselves forgone their ethics, there are business organizations which are working to remove Child Labour. The most respected name amongst these companies is that of IKEA, a furnishing company based in Europe. IKEA foundation is the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. IKEA supports the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), with the basic requirement to always put the best interests of the child in focus. IKEA insists at making sure that no form of child labour happens under them, or their suppliers’. If Child labour is found at the place of production or supply, they require supplier to take corrective action plan, taking the child’s well being into consideration. If this is not done, IKEA terminates business with them. IKEA is particularily well known in India, where one body is specifically placed to works with NGOs and other bodies in order to eradicate Child Labour. It also works in collaboration with UNICEF.

Some other notable attempts made to decrease child labour include Rugmark Licensing, which certifies that the rugs and carpets have not been made using child labour. Also, Harkin bill was introduced, according to which import of any item made using child labour is banned in U.S. Also, given the Sports companies are known to use Child Labour, the Foulball campaign was launched by professional soccer players. They had campaigned against using of soccer balls made by children in games, and wrote to the authorities in FIFA to verify that fact.


Child labour is not just a problem of one society or one nation; neither does it occur only in small mechanic shops. It is one of the biggest evils that have their stronghold in society. Children are forced or brainwashed into doing work that is beyond their age, disrupting any chance at a normal childhood that they can have. We must note that Child labour is only when children are kept from education or any such aide and forced into working. Child exploitation, in its worst, takes form of slavery of children, forcing them into drug trafficking and prostitution, using them as soldiers in armed conflict or forcing them to work in potentially fatal environments. The repercussions of child labour are grave, not just for present, but future as well. The children who work now will grow up into ailing and sickly adults, hence not able to provide for themselves or the economy. Ironically, we say poverty brings about child labour, while the converse of it is true as well, i.e. Child labour brings about poverty.

We also note that developing and underdeveloped nations are intensely plagued with child labour, more so than the developed ones. This is because they are now going through industrialization, and are struggling due to competition of domestic industries against the ones from further developed and industrialized nations.

We also noted that Child labour is not a recent phenomenon; from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens to The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy by Frances Trollope, we see that the Victorian era had peen blotted by Child labour. Child labour had always been present, but Industrialization just winged it further to become an all consuming fire that badly burnt childhood of a staggering number of children. Child prostitution wasn’t new either, as exhibited by the pedophilic tendencies of Humbert Humbert, the narrator of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. The problem lies with the fact that the nations with raging Child Labour have a very lax attitude towards child labour. People don’t have work, and government pays more attention to an upward sloped graph of their growth and GDP rather than who is working for it, and what might be its consequences. Larger companies which can’t get such cheap labour as children in their country use this to cut down on production costs.

What we require is a firm policy implementation system, something which has been suggested since a long time but still is undergoing troubles. Alternatively, education, changing political beliefs and using anti-child labour propaganda in order to make sure that people think twice before sending their children off to work can be done. This may be accomplished by local bodies, political parties, NGOs, etc.

Corporations may also play a role by abstaining themselves from using Child Labour. Then, they might use their Corporate Social Responsibility projects, funding trusts and collaborating with NGOs to do the same. They may also help with the Children welfare and education so they may be better off. People may boycott products that have been produced using Child labour (like in Foul Ball Campaign). Several bodies like ILO and UNICEF have been known to work with European Union and companies like IKEA for Children’s welfare.

We may follow example of China, where child labour is prohibited and education is compulsory, or of Kerela, where the Socio economic conditions have forved out Child labour, despite it being part of a country notorious for Child Labour. With the situation today, stopping child labour altogether is an impossible dream. What we can wish for is start limiting it, surrounding it step by step so it does not take a further grotesque form than it already has. Its complete eradication, while impossible at the moment with all the problems with people’s mentality and the regional disparities, may not be a far away dream in future. All we need are baby steps.


* Stolen Youth: Brutalized children, Globalization and Campaign to end Child Labour By Robert Weissman (1997) * One world Guide on Child Labour
* Report alleges Victoria’s Secret linked to child labor (December15, 2011) CNN US news. * http://library.thinkquest.org/trio/TTQ02189/wal_mart.htm * http://www.businesspundit.com/5-giant-companies-who-use-slave-labor/ * BBC primary History: Children in Factories

* UNICEF reports and publications
* International Labour organization (website, reports, facts and figures) * MICS 2010 and National Labour Force Survey 2005, UCW Project calculations * Child Prostitution By Louren Kotow

* Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Victorian Children (October 13, 2010) * Sadler Committee reports (1832)
* CNN IBN report: More than 1 million children in India (May 11, 2009) * Statistics by ChildInfo.org
* Lolita by Vladimir Nabarkov (1955)

[ 2 ]. Interview of Matthew Crabtree, Source: Sadler Committee reports, Year: 1832 [ 3 ]. Child Labour Guide: One world
[ 4 ]. Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Victorian Children (October 13, 2010) [ 5 ]. Child Prostitution By Louren Kotow
[ 6 ]. UNICEF publication, Child Labour in historical Perspective, edited by Hugh Cunningham and Pier Paolo Viazzo [ 7 ]. Stolen Youth: Brutalized children, Globalization and Campaign to end Child Labour By Robert Weissman (1997) [ 8 ]. International Labour Organisation: Facts and figures on Child Labour (Source: World Bank) (1996) [ 9 ]. MICS 2010 and National Labour Force Survey 2005, UCW Project calculations [ 10 ]. UNICEF report: Child in war (1996)

[ 11 ]. http://www.businesspundit.com/5-giant-companies-who-use-slave-labor/ [ 12 ]. Report alleges Victoria’s Secret linked to child labor (December15, 2011) CNN US news. [ 13 ]. http://library.thinkquest.org/trio/TTQ02189/wal_mart.htm [ 14 ]. Stolen Youth: Brutalized children, Globalization and Campaign to end Child Labour By Robert Weissman (1997)

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