The third myth is that most child labourers are at work in the sweatshops of industries exporting cheap goods to the stores of the rich world. Soccer balls made by children in Pakistan for use by children in industrialized countries may provide a compelling symbol, but in fact, only a very small proportion of all child workers are employed in export industries - probably less than 5 per cent. Most of the world’s child labourers actually are to be found in the informal sector - selling on the street, at work in agriculture or hidden away in houses — far from the reach of official labour inspectors and from media scrutiny.There's a tendency to view this issue as a morality play, with evil multinational corporations exploiting children for cheap labor. Yet as this report notes, most children actually work outside the formal sector: they hawk goods on the street, work long hours on a farm, or work in a small factory producing goods that will never come close to the Western market. In this world, heavy-handed attempts by advocates in rich countries to end child labor can easily be harmful, as they depress the export market and hence the nascent manufacturing base that is necessary to pull a country out of poverty.
Myth four is that the only way to make headway against child labour is for consumers and governments to apply pressure through sanctions and boycotts. While international commitment and pressure are important, boycotts and other sweeping measures can only affect export sectors, which are relatively small exploiters of child labour. Such measures are also blunt instruments with long-term consequences that can actually harm rather than help the children involved. UNICEF advocates a comprehensive strategy against hazardous child labour that supports and develops local initiatives and provides alternatives - notably compulsory primary education of high quality - for liberated children. (Emphasis mine.)
Sunday, August 22, 2010
The reality of child labor
I recently came across an 1997 report by UNICEF that listed "four myths about child labor". I found some of the discussion on myths three and four to be particularly illuminating: