Not including off-book numbers of child workers, more than 320 million children under sixteen are employed more than part-time, with only 25 percent of those children ever completing even an elementary level education. Child labor has long been a controversial subject, with much emotion and misinformation to make a volatile situation even more precarious. As with most controversial issues, each side makes valid arguments for their position, seeing the situation through their own experiences and making judgments based upon those biases. By examining a few of the pros and cons of child labor, the answer will likely remain unclear, but a better understanding of the controversy may be found. Those opposed to child labor argue the unfairness of profitable companies exploiting those less fortunate, especially children. They also rightly point to violations of human rights and basic safety conditions are denied to child workers across the world. Finally, the loss of even the most basic education causes a multi-generational cycle of poverty and mistreatment. In contrast, some argue in favor of child labor in certain circumstances. Economic realists point out the economic necessity of every able body to work in support of the economic base in impoverished nations, particularly in support of themselves and their families. Even in more developed nations, many families rely on the income gained by younger workers to survive at the basest levels. Finally, the Trump administration has been developing programs to enter young people into competitive industries at younger ages to provide them with additional opportunities and greater ability to compete.
Despite the popular opinion that the United States is opposed to child labor, U.S companies today profit substantially from its abuse. In America, we often take for granted what we have and the easy access we have to it. One of the biggest and most profitable American businesses in modern times is the main violator in this child labor crisis. Apple, Inc. has always employed children for its raw materials, including tin. “Today, miners who work in the same tunnels as 16th century conscripted Incan laborers are providing tin for Apple products like the iPhone. It’s a powerful paradox—our most cutting-edge consumer devices are made from raw material obtained by methods barely advanced beyond colonial times.” (Apple Must Create an Ethical Supply Chain That Is Free of Child Labor, 2019). First world countries should use their resources properly and responsibly instead of taking advantage of third world impoverished children. In one of the largest mining operations in Cerro Rico, children as young as 6 years old work in the mines, with an appalling average lifespan of a mine worker of only 40 years old. Knowledge is power and the fact that Apple has yet to do anything about it is disheartening because money is not the issue. Brian Merchant states, “To effect real change, companies must dedicate serious resources and novel systems-thinking to the problem. And if any company has serious resources to spare it’s Apple: It’s the most valuable enterprise in the world, with $256 billion in cash on hand.”(Apple Must Create an Ethical Supply Chain That Is Free of Child Labor) With all the money in the world, Apple is still buying from companies using child labor. Even more disturbing, prosperous countries like the United States clamber for the products created from the work of mistreated populations.
Another reason child labor ought to be outlawed stems from the fact that child labor working conditions are often dangerous and immoral.
Child laborers usually have very poor working conditions: extremely long work period (from twelve to sixteen hours a day), injuries from machinery, health issues from chemical poisonings, and no access to potable or hygienic facilities. youngsters children who have worked in these conditions suffer from life-long disabilities and die at younger ages.This kind of child labor is of course immoral. President Trump gave his opinion on the situation by saying “Everyone deserves well-regulated, safe workplaces, not hazardous job sites where they face dangers before they’re old enough to vote” (Why It Matters That the Trump Administration Is Reportedly Trying to Loosen Child Labor Laws, 2019). In the United States, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards act of 1938 effectively barring oppressive child labor. This meant that employers could no longer take advantage of children already in a bad situation. This also created the right to minimum wage. However, despite the passing of the FLSA, industries such as tobacco can still use child labor. Reid Maki explains, “When the seminal legislation the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938, it exempted agriculture from its extensive labor protections, including child labor.” (American 12-year-olds can’t buy cigarettes. Why can they work in tobacco fields?, 2019) The United States is a first-world country, yet still condones the harming of children by putting them to work at young ages in hazardous conditions.
One of the most devastating effects of child labor abuses affects children for the rest of their lives, as they lose the opportunity for an education because they are working instead. Child labor causes children to lose education due to work responsibilities. Wanting to protect the children, national and international communities have implemented laws and treaties to regulate child labor. Since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, dozens of international treaties concerning children’s rights have been written. The most important of these seem to be the UN’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognizes every child’s right to primary school education. The convention also requires that nations protect children from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. David L. Parker gives his insight by saying “Any job, even one that does not seem harmful can keep a child from attending school.“ (Children Should Not Be Forced into Labor, 2010). In spite of numerous laws and treaties, child labor remains an enormous problem, and millions of children lack access to basic education. Officially, more than 320 million children under age sixteen work worldwide and 25 percent of children do not complete primary school education. Also, almost 150 million children labor in the worst forms of work. Poor families usually lack resources to ensure that their children attend school and stay healthy. The parents of the family play a major role in the children’s opportunity for education. When the parents gain a basic education, it is likely for the children to follow in it. Education is an extremely important part of living and helps the children’s health, physical, mental, spiritual, and social development.
For those of us living in prosperous countries, it is easy to feel sorry for the existence of sweatshops in the developing world. In America, we are so fortunate to enjoy some of the best working conditions in the world. So, when we get a glimpse of working conditions in places like Bangladesh, we are understandably appalled. However, the fact of the matter is that what we call sweatshops are helping to lift developing countries out of poverty and into the global economy. Despite our supposed good intentions, when we actively call for boycotts or the shutdown of these factories, we harm these workers and stall economic development. To demand that these factories shut down would also mean trapping these nations in immense poverty. Brittany Hunter states “you cannot compare the economy of developing nations to that of the United States. We have a standard of living in this country that far surpasses that of anywhere else in the world. Holding a nation like Bangladesh to the same standards as are our own country is entirely unrealistic: especially when we compare the wages paid in sweatshops to those in other sectors in the developing world. (Banning Sweatshops Only Hurts the Poor, 2018). Removing all sweatshops would ultimately lead to a failure in the economy in developing countries as well as extreme job loss. Moral outrage is a luxury we have as a first world country, but from the perspective of a third world country and its populace, work, whether by an adult or child, is a means of survival.
Many who argue against the employment childrenren within the labor marketplace fail to respect the very fact that child labor is also a money necessity for families who don’t build enough income to purchase the necessities to survive. It is becoming more often that teens have a job, “The reasons teens seek employment vary, but a 2015 study from the Urban Institute drawing on data from the American Community Survey between 2008 and 2012 found an alarming rate of 16- to 18-year-olds had dropped out of school to work full time, with 60% of them contributing more than 10% to their families’ incomes.” (Why It Matters That the Trump Administration Is Reportedly Trying to Loosen Child Labor Laws, 2019). Families with low income and financial instability tend to lean on the kids to help pay off bills. Child labor allows children to get jobs and start helping the family to survive at a younger age. Denying families access to these limited sources of income can be devastating to the family and the larger economy.
One of the often-overlooked advantages of child labor is that of competitive advantage. Working from a young age gives a person a competitive advantage of working and learning tasks at a younger age. The Trump administration is working to loosen the child labor laws so kids can gain knowledge of certain work fields. Kim Kelly writes “President Donald Trump’s administration is breaking new ground in its war on the working class with a new effort to deregulate child labor. Bloomberg Law reported that according to sources familiar with the situation, a new proposal from the Department of Labor would loosen a host of workplace regulations, including what’s known as the Hazardous Occupations Orders, which protects workers between the ages of 16 and 18 from long hours and prohibits them from receiving extended training in fields with heavy machinery and manufacturing that may put lives in danger (Why It Matters That the Trump Administration Is Reportedly Trying to Loosen Child Labor Laws, 2019) This new law would still keep children in our country safe, yet would allow them to join the workforce as important members of the working population and valuable contributors to their family and their communities. Joining the workforce at a young age may give children an advantage compared to people who do it later in life.
After reviewing the pros and cons of child labor, the answer is still likely undetermined, but a better understanding of the issues has been found. The arguments by those opposed to child labor, the unfairness of profitable companies exploiting those less fortunate, especially children, the violations of human rights and the loss of educational access provide valid concern with child labor. The economic reality of impoverished nations, the need for families for all able bodyworkers and the very real competitive advantage proposed by the Trump administration negate many of the concerns of child labor. Even though more than 320 million children currently labor, the rightness or wrongness of the situation has yet to be determined.