According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are around 158 million children worldwide, aged between five and fourteen who are engaged in some form of labor activities. While article 32 of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “the right of the child [is] 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.” the practice is still active on a global scale. This is despite the fact that the articles of the convention has been ratified by all countries in some form. Most of us have already been brought up to have negative reactions to the very idea of child labor, but in many third world or lesser developed countries, the practice is alive and well and often encouraged. 158 million children being subjected to exploitative business practices is a tragedy and needs to be ended. Showing why child labor is a problem will demonstrate why a solution must be proposed. The solution to this however is not what the standard argument has been for years. Boycotting the companies and firms that are associated with the practice or to make symbolic gestures to condemn the nations that allow child labor to happen makes conditions worse for the children. As a matter of fact, the solution is to the exact opposite of what the traditional argument has been; and despite the shock of those who initially hear the proposal, we must allow child labor to continue to lead to its demise. It may not be what traditionalists want to hear, but it is the only proven way.
Since morals and problems are all subjective it may not be necessary to explain to you the over all problem of child labor, but understanding the key issue behind it all gives the importance of why swift action is needed. In many parts of the world, including in the world’s largest democracy, India, children are kept out of school yards, away from swing sets and toys and instead cramped together in dangerous factory or labor intensive settings. While we grew up in air conditioned heavens filled with the latest in toys, games and educational activities, third world children were instead being forced to make those products for us that we grew up enjoying. The very idea of our children being forced to work appalls us, but it is just normal in certain parts of the world. The major issues are laid out in article 32 as read above. By working the children are in a state “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.” America’s regulation costs American businesses $1.1 trillion a year; included in those regulations are restrictions on the environment someone may not work in, how long a work shift can be, and what a worker can and can not do. In the nations where children are employed, they do not have nearly a as regulated business industry as we do. So not only are they being put into situations that interfere with their well being, but those situations are also more dangerous and detrimental to their health than what it would be in a nation where trillions is spent on protecting the worker. By being unsafe and interfering with a child’s development and well-being, child labor is morally wrong and is indeed a problem.
Since we all believe child labor is a problem, several proposals have been tried out to end it. For years activist groups have taken symbolic gestures and actions to “help” the process along, but their actions have done nothing but been just what it was, symbolic. To end Child labor we need more than “awareness ribbons” and futile boycotts. By examining the old methods versus my proposal of letting the system continue to run and history repeat itself, it will be evident that one will continue to be harmful and nothing more than symbolic and my proposal will work out and lead to the eventual demise of child labor.
This “do-nothing” approach simply allows the industrial and social revolution that America, Great Britain, Germany and the other already industrialized nations already went through to materialize in the nations that currently have a large labor force made up of children. While the naive may believe that simply boycotting the company’s that sell products made from factories that employ children will end the problem, they often overlook the obvious facts. If you take away the children’s job they are not going to just like magic all of a sudden be enrolled in school, be in a backyard playing and be out of impoverished conditions, as a matter of fact if you take away their jobs their condition gets worse. In the 1990′s the United States boycotted carpet exports from Nepal because the carpets were made through child labor. When all was done 5000-7000 Nepalese children were left with no alternative but to prostitute their bodies (Globalization). If asked, would not you think that the children preferred making carpets than being sexually degraded? Maybe this example would better show the universal response to children losing their job. Also set in the 1990′s, after Senator Harkin proposed the Child Labor Deterrence Act that as according to his website would, “prohibit the importation of products that have been produced by child labor, and included civil and criminal penalties for violators” 50,000 Bangladesh children were removed from their garment industry jobs and ended up instead resort to jobs that as UNICEF put it included, “”stone-crushing, street hustling, and prostitution.” They even went as far as to say that their new jobs were, “”more hazardous and exploitative than garment production.” In the same UNICEF study they stated, “[boycotts] are blunt instruments with long-term consequences, that can actually harm rather than help the children involved.” Boycotts are proven to be harmful and actually exploit children more than if they were simply working.
With the most popular idea of boycotting proven to be more detrimental than helpful, the only feasible solution that remains is to let the system continue as is. Think of it this way, if the parents could have the means to save their children from having to work at such a young age, do not you think they would? It is obvious that they would. Our problem is that we are thinking of these economies and nations as just like our own and applying our own standards to them. They are what modern economies were over one hundred years ago. Literally, they are one hundred years behind. One hundred years ago America was employing children in their workforce, and it was not colored ribbons or these ridiculous boycotts that led to its demise, it was economic advancement. World famous economist Milton Freidman showed that the industrial revolution led to a decline in child labor as real wages rose, making it more affordable for parents to be able to send their children to school rather than needing them to work. Thomas DeGregori, a professor at the University of Houston who teaches economics also backs up this belief and said, “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.” History and renowned economists back up this belief. By letting real wages grow and the technology that comes with it, families have more money and are able to afford to send their children to schools instead of forcing them to work to make a living. As the wages grow, tax revenue increases as well, leading to more money available to supply those schools with the tools needed to grow future generations of economically sustained individuals. All it takes from us now is to let our history repeat itself in the under developed nations.
“Boycott child labor” ribbons are symbolic and are nothing but futile efforts by uninformed citizens making a statement. The boycott itself has been proven to be not at all helpful and to actually be harmful to these children that the activists claim to be trying to help. Taking away their jobs lead to them being forced into deeper poverty and resorting to extremes such as prostituting their bodies and taking other hasher jobs. The only feasible solution to end child labor is exactly what I proposed, do nothing for now and allow these countries to developed socially and economically. It may take time, but these nations are not on the same level as us and we should stop applying our standards to them for now. While we may all agree that 158 million children is 158 million too many, we have to be reasonable and allow the economic processes that we encountered as a society over century ago, to start up in the nations that currently employ children. The next time you want to boycott anything, boycott those who boycott child labor. It is the right thing to do.