Unintended Consequences for Children

International children’s rights advocates focus significant resources on eliminating child labor in developing countries, often advocating consumer boycotts and international regulation. Despite all these efforts, however, child labor is still prevalent throughout the developing world. Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti think all that international pressure may actually be worsening the child labor problem. The economists point out that reform in the developed world was driven by the unskilled workers who competed with children for employment. Today, external measures like boycotts eliminate that mechanism by shifting child laborers to the informal sector and reducing the incentive for unskilled workers to advocate for reform. The authors instead suggest policies which reward parents for sending their kids to school, discourage high fertility, and support families dependent on child-labor income. [%comments]

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  1. Eric M. Jones says:

    “The economists point out that reform in the developed world was driven by the unskilled workers who competed with children for employment.”

    Negative. Usually these people are so down-trodden by the system that they have no energy or resources to put together any sort of movement. Instead it was the unions and pointy-headed liberals who wanted a better society.

    You can also bet who was against it….

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  2. Kirilius says:

    I have seen many times individuals of visible age between 14 and 16 working in fast food franchises in smaller towns in Canada. I wonder: does that count for child labor? It is labor for sure. Also what is the definition of a child? To me a 15-years-old is still a child. And how is that different from the child labor in developing world?

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  3. Megan W. says:

    While I oppose child labor, I have long wondered if boycotts are the way to go. What happens to the child who is now eating regularly because he has a job, if he loses that job? Seems to me, he may be better off working if the local economy is grim enough to require it.

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  4. Marcelo says:

    The suggested policies are pretty obvious measures, but which are often criticized, I just can´t figure out why. In Brazil, there´s a reward plan for parents who are able to keep their children at school, but it´s been deemed as a way for the government to assure such parents will vote for them the next election. That might be so, but there´s nothing illegal or immoral about it, it´s not like they´re buying people´s votes or anything. More than that, they´re not simply improving these families lives, they´re also assuring the country will have more educated people in the future. And more education generally means more development, as in South Korea´s case, for instance.

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  5. Phil says:

    Why doesn’t homework qualify as child labor?

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  6. Mojo Bone says:

    If a fifteen year old were allowed to do today what I did for money when I was fifteen, well fourteen, actually-most folks would want to see his parents jailed for exploitation and/or endangerment. I guess I can see how today’s kids, who haven’t been allowed to ride a bicycle without a helmet or carry a pocket knife, might never have gotten enough sense knocked into them to be able to handle operating a meat slicer, or using knives and cash registers and whatnot, but given that my parents and grandparents grubbed for every nickel they could earn during the last depression, I’ve acquired the opinion that in certain circumstances, there may be a limit to how much ‘morality’ a given family can afford.

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  7. Karl Bielefeldt says:

    Nothing wrong with child labor, as long as it’s fair, safe, and doesn’t interfere with education. Personally, I think kids don’t work enough these days, with a consequent sense of entitlement that lasts too long into adulthood.

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  8. Nella says:

    I think this “reward for school” social program is really interesting and beneficial. If it is implemented correctly, it should be able to provide a good number of children with access to relevant, (hopefully free) and good-quality education.

    However, this would of course not be enough, as the government institutions need to implement laws and regulations against child labour. Parents need to be more educated and given a chance to find alternative income to order to replace their child’s employment. Of course, there needs to be a combination of different programs in order to end any social problem and really make a difference in the developing world.

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