Friday, July 22, 2005

Another Look at Child Labor

Research Changes Ideas About Children and Work [NYT]

Fascinating article in the New York Times about child labor in developing countries.. you must read it!

"When Americans think about child labor in poor countries, they rarely picture girls fetching water or boys tending livestock. Yet most of the 211 million children, ages 5 to 14, who work worldwide are not in factories. They are working in agriculture - from 92 percent in Vietnam to 63 percent in Guatemala - and most are not paid directly.

"Most working children are employed by their parents rather than in manufacturing establishments or other forms of wage employment," two Dartmouth economists, Eric V. Edmonds and Nina Pavcnik.

"When he started working on child labor issues six years ago, Professor Edmonds said in an interview, "the conventional view was that child labor really wasn't about poverty."

"Recent research, however, casts doubt on the cultural explanation. "In every context that I've looked at things, child labor seems to be almost entirely about poverty. I wouldn't say it's only about poverty, but it's got a lot to do with poverty," Professor Edmonds said."

Consider what happened in Vietnam when incomes rose:
"Instead, it looks like what households did was, with rising income, they purchased substitutes for child labor. They used more fertilizers. There was more mechanization, more purchasing of tools," he [Edmonds] said, adding, "It was the opposite of what I expected to find coming in."

"Rather than simply banning child labor, then, policy makers should concentrate on alleviating poverty. That includes not only encouraging economic growth but also improving access to schools and to credit markets."

Isn't this fascinating? Sometimes we just try to treat a symptom of the problem instead of understanding what the real cause is.

"Most child labor policy even today is directed at trying to get kids into unemployment - to limit working opportunities for kids," he [Edmonds] said in the interview. But, "if households are already in a situation where they don't want their children to be working, but they're forced to because of their circumstance, taking additional steps to prevent the kids from working is punishing the poorest for being poor."

Parents in developing countries don't want to treat their children badly or make them work long, miserable hours. But, they do have to survive, and if it's survivial that's at stake, children will work! My parents worked when they were young.. maybe not in a large industrial factory, but they did contribute to the incomes of their families.

Eric Edmonds outstanding work should certainly be recognized, and the amazing thing is he is very young! He is only 34 years old... Read his papers here.