Home Discussions CHILD LABOUR


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“Don’t just keep telling us ‘stop working’. We work because we have to eat. We work because, for us, it is a necessity. If you really want us to stop working – make sure you solve the problems of our families.”

Well-being and protection of all children have widely been associated with universal rights, especially in child labour cases. Simultaneously, though, there is growing advocacy for the right of children to work to live. Drawing on cultural relativist premises, such advocacy strongly correlates with an acceptance of poverty as a condition that is inevitable or simply ‘given’. We advance an argument against the right of children to work to live. The fact that only poor children are compelled to work should direct analyses to the causes of poverty. A critical engagement with the politics of development is necessary as it is often constitutive of relations of impoverishment. We critique perspectives that advocate for child labor and substantiate our argument by drawing on the case example of Bolivia, which lowered the legal age for child labor, only to eventually retract this decision. The case for the right of children to work to live is not justifiable, but there is a case for abolishing child labor and upholding the right of all children and their families to live in dignity. Poverty is not ‘another culture’.

Child labor is a persistent global issue, and it is an immense challenge for the world in general and for developing and less developed countries specifically. The term child labor can be defined as “any work that can be harmful to children morally, socially, physically, and mentally”. Child labor is a hazard not only on humanitarian grounds but is also injurious socially and economically. Socially it can cause social unrest and the economic outcomes of child labor in the form of health and education can hamper the quality and quantity of human capital. The protection of children against deprivation and discrimination is an urgent ongoing task. Poor children are increasingly forced to work to live, especially, though not exclusively in countries of the Global South. This phenomenon is not exceptional but widespread and occurs in the context of a strong consensus in support of the protection of children at international, national, and local levels. There are specific international human rights instruments and labor laws aimed at protecting children from discrimination, deprivation, and exploitation. Many children especially across the Global South, are deprived of fundamental needs to live in dignity primarily due to the fact that their families are subjected to poverty because of international government policies. Poverty has been compounded through development and has been reflected in an increase in children compelled to work for survival. Their struggles are exemplified in international children’s movements against deprivation and discrimination. Alongside these struggles, there has been an increase in advocacy for the right of children to work to survive, underpinned by a concern with ensuring that they are protected as ‘laborers’. The results of the analysis revealed that if a child was out of school then there would be more chances of work. If the father or both parents of the child were passed away in life, or they are uneducated, have a low-income level, or, the head of the family worked in the agriculture sector, or lives in a rural area, all these factors encourage the child labor. The high cost of education can cause more child labor. Free education can help to reduce child labor.

Advocates in favor of the regulation, rather than abolition, of child labor are critical of what they deem to be either unrealistic expectations about capacity, resources, and political will to address conditions of impoverishment; or of what some frame as the ‘cultural imposition’ of ideals of protected childhood. Some combine both arguments. Results of the empirical investigation showed that the area of residency played an important role in child labor. Increased income level in rural areas has a negative effect on child labor while it has no effect in the urban areas of residency. The second outcome showed that land ownership of such land which requires labor work, can increase the child labor in both urban and rural areas and endorsed the wealth paradox. Given that not all, but only poor children, are compelled to work to survive, the causes of poverty must be the point of reference of analyses aiming to meaningfully explain, and respond to, discrimination as well as deprivation of the requirements to live in dignity. Any analysis of the causes of poverty must be situated within a critical understanding of the politics of development, thus avoiding the fallacious premise of accepting poverty as the inescapable precursor to development, or a quasi-natural characteristic of a country categorized as at a lower stage of development. Instead, we argue that poverty and development must be conceptualized in relational terms and that such a conceptualization fundamentally undermines the key premises of advocating for children’s rights to (or at) work.

Perspectives that do not operate with a relational understanding of poverty and development disarticulate the primary reason why some children find themselves compelled to work. Poverty, income level, and unemployment of youth as economic determinants of child labor. Family size, family type, culture, mistrust of the education system, and rural-urban migration as social determinants and failure of the Government to provide free education, weak implementation of child labor laws, and lack of interest of political leaders in this issue as political determinants of child Labor. Another argument about the choice of a number of children and their education is the longevity argument.


We emphasize that development processes have been constitutively implicated in the production of poverty and impoverishment, which push poor children to work. Where advocates in favor of children’s rights to work focus on ‘what poor children do’, we focus on what relations of impoverishment due to poor children. Advocacy for the right of children to work from scholars working on the ‘rights of children’ to NGOs and lobby groups has coincided – even though undoubtedly in many cases unintentionally – with a tacit acceptance of the premises and prescriptions of development. The case for a ‘right of children to work to live’ rests on ultimately unjustifiable claims about child labor as culturally contingent on the one hand, and on flawed assumptions about the politics (and political economy) of poverty and development on the other. Contrary to assumptions of working from critical premises, the positions advanced by advocates of the ‘right for poor children to work’ owe much more to assumptions about development, and poverty, as well as suppositions about the ‘origins’ of human rights ideas and ideals.


Sparrows by morning, live in peaceful nests! Design shouldn’t dominate things, shouldn’t dominate people. It should help people. Don’t spend your time solving your favorite problems, solve problems that need to be solved, generically. A home is a place where you live, and society is a place where your story begins. Honesty shares honesty, as it is honesty’s nature. Stay always in Ablution and get back to the trust you have been, with.

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