Child labor (or child labour) is the employment of children under an age determined by law or custom. This practice is considered exploitative by many countries and international organizations. Child labor was not seen as a problem throughout most of history, only becoming a disputed issue with the beginning of universal schooling and the concepts of laborers and children's rights.
Child labor can include factory work, mining or quarrying, agriculture, helping in the parents' business, having one's own small business (for example selling food), or doing odd jobs. Some children work as guides for tourists, sometimes combined with bringing in business for shops and restaurants (where they may also work as waiters). Other children are forced to do tedious and repetitive jobs such as assembling boxes, or polishing shoes. However, rather than in factories and sweatshops, most child labor occurs in the informal sector, "selling on the street, at work in agriculture or hidden away in houses — far from the reach of official labor inspectors and from media scrutiny."
The most controversial forms of work include the military use of children as well as child prostitution. Less controversial, and often legal with some restrictions, are work as child actors and child singers, as well as agricultural work outside of the school year (seasonal work).
The United Nations and the International Labour Organization consider child labor exploitative, with the UN stipulating, in article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that:
...States Parties recognize the right of the child 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.
In many countries, it is considered inappropriate or exploitative if a child below a certain age works, excluding household chores or schoolwork. An employer is often not allowed to hire a child below a certain age. This minimum age depends on the country; in the United States, the minimum age to work in an establishment without parents' consent and restrictions is age 16.
Many children as young as four are employed in production factories with dangerous, and often fatal, working conditions. Based on this understanding of the use of children as laborers, it is now considered by wealthy countries to be a human rights violation, and is outlawed, while some poorer countries may allow or tolerate it.
Poor families often rely on the labors of their children for survival, and sometimes it is their only source of income. This type of work is often hidden away because it is not in the industrial sector. Child labor is employed in subsistence agriculture, in the household, or in the urban informal sector. In order to benefit children, child labor prohibition has to address the dual challenge of providing them with both short-term income and long-term prospects. Some youth rights groups, however, feel that prohibiting work below a certain age violates human rights, reducing children's options and leaving them subject to the whims of those with money. The reasons a child would consent or want to work may vary greatly. A child may consent to work if, for example, the earnings are attractive or if the child hates school, but such consent may not be informed consent. The workplace may still be an undesirable situation for a child or adult in the long run.
The United States also has extensive child labor laws. In the 1990s every country in the world except for Somalia and the United States became a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC. The CRC provides the strongest, most consistent international legal language prohibiting illegal child labor.
Introduction: The perspective from Trondheim
Child labour is a subject whose connotations and imagery are inextricably associated with the 19th century industrial revolution. Viewed until recently as a phenomenon consigned to history, child labour -- notably in the developing countries -- has lately re-emerged as an issue of widespread concern. This stems partly from awareness generated by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; it is also a product of the increasing political attention being given to children and young people generally, and to issues of neglect, abuse or exploitation amounting to gross violations of their rights.
Estimates of the numbers of children and young people world wide who are in some form of regular employment, who perform marketing or service functions to earn money for themselves or their families, or who undertake some form of work, paid or unpaid, as a traded commodity, are usually in the hundreds of millions. The phenomenon is undoubtedly linked to the rapid process of urbanisation currently being experienced in many parts of the developing world, and thus any wide-ranging discussion of the changing dynamics of urban childhood would be incomplete without its inclusion. However, specialists in the subject believe that, overall, more rural than urban children can be described as "working"; it is important to note that child labour is therefore not only an "urban childhood" issue even if this was the framework for discussions in Trondheim. It is as important to note that socio-cultural and historical variables are as important as economic and demographic trends in contributing to the phenomenon. Child work, if not "child labour", has been an intrinsic feature of human society since it began.
The considerable upsurge of public and political interest in child labour in recent years, and the activist campaigning which has promoted and fed this state of heightened concern, has not been without its internal controversies. While abuse, neglect and exploitation of children under all circumstances are universally deplored, there is considerable debate as to whether the practice of "child labour" can be definitively classified in all cases and settings as a gross violation of children's rights. Commentators have pointed to the value of work as an integral part of a child's and young person's learning and psycho-social development process -- a value acknowledged freely in industrialised world settings.
Equally, there have been strong differences of view about strategies to respond to the phenomenon of child labour. In particular, the imposition of compulsory universal education, whatever its independent value for boys and girls of school-going age, is not accepted by all schools of thought as a panacea for the elimination of child employment. There is an associated recognition that primary education is often of very poor quality in many countries where child employment is commonplace, and the provision of appropriate, good quality universal primary schooling in these settings -- while it should be an important priority for a variety of reasons -- cannot be accomplished overnight.
Both these issues -- work as a positive value in upbringing, and strategies to eliminate child labour including the role of education -- were among the recurrent themes throughout the conference and were thoroughly explored during working sessions.
Where issues of gross abuse and exploitation are concerned, debates surrounding children have a tendency to be informed as much by emotion as by science, especially where solid information is lacking. In the case of child labour, this has led to an unfortunate polarisation of views leading to artificial dichotomies both about the practice itself and about strategies for its reduction. Within the research and practitioner community, it is well-recognised that insufficient data is available concerning the implications of work and employment of different kinds and in different circumstances for the children and young people involved. Not only does this lack of data impair programmatic action relating to child workers and their families; it has had the effect of impoverishing the debate, and of allowing assumptions deriving from 19th century norms to inform strongly-held positions without sufficient re-examination in contemporary settings.
Bearing in mind existing knowledge gaps and the pressures the debate has recently experienced, the Child Labour section was structured in such a way as to address key dialectical issues, and to examine the interactions between existing programmatic work and potential research activity. The Conference programme was designed to build on existing practitioner knowledge, the outcomes of contemporary research studies, and the perspectives of child workers themselves, in order to explore the following themes:
· Child labour: a problem that needs to be addressed at national as well as global levels;
· When does work become exploitation? How to understand labour and
· its harmful effects from the working childs perspective;Childrens work in the informal sector, particularly domestic and home based work;
· How do we get to know what we need to know about child labour? Methods for further research;
· How do we deal with child labour in practical terms? How can programming profit from the contributionsof research and how can research take its guidance from programming?
· Where do we go from here? Critical questions and implications for policies, programming and research.
During the course of the Urban Childhood Conference, strands of a new perspective on child labour gradually emerged. The degree of unanimity surrounding this new perspective was in marked contrast to the divergence of views which has so often characterised discussions concerning child labour. This in itself is an important indicator that the debate has turned a corner. In the light of better information and sober reflection, and an expansion -- albeit modest -- in scientific interest and data collection, researchers, activists and policy advisors concerning child labour are beginning to occupy common ground.
The most important new characteristic of the discourse is that it has moved beyond the polemics of "for or against" -- both in connection with whether young people should be allowed to work, and in connection with specific strategies for the elimination of "child labour". A consensus has emerged around a much broader vision, at the centre of which is the notion that the aim of any action to assist actual or potential working children should be to provide support and protection for childhood development, taking into account the best interests of the children or young people concerned, and their perceptions of those best interests.
Adopting a "childhood development" lens as the way in which to view occupations, workplaces and employment practices does not preclude holding definitive views about inappropriate and grossly exploitative types of child employment; nor does it preclude respecting the value of work as an essential part of growing up. But it does suggest that applying judgements based on minimum age standards for occupations and workplaces which do not fall neatly into either category is not necessarily the most appropriate means of child labour regulation.
One of the most striking findings of the meeting was that healthy psycho-social development is by no means inconsistent with a working life in childhood or during adolescence. Young workers themselves attested to the way in which work experience gave them a sense of self-worth; at the same time, evidence suggested that in settings where schooling was poor, healthy psycho-social development could not be guaranteed in the classroom. Increasingly, research is suggesting that work and school are not the mutually exclusive alternatives so frequently portrayed. Work and full-time education can be dovetailed, as happens in industrialised world settings with both adult and young worker approval.
Among other key ingredients of the new perspective on child labour were the following:
· the need to avoid pathologising language concerning child work and child workers, and to reduce the level of sensationalism surrounding the subject; also reduce the misunderstandings that result from the fact that the word "child" can denote children and young people up to 18 years;
· recognition that research is needed to compensate for the lack of scientific information concerning child labour; and the need for appropriate tools and methodologies to fill knowledge gaps;
· respect for the voices of children and young people and their own perceptions of their needs, and the development of mechanisms to allow their voices to be heard in the debate;
· careful differentiation between the usefulness of international instruments articulating universal principles; and the need for flexible and relativist programmatic approaches
· recognition that regulation via the law is only one instrument among many for dealing with the needs and rights of working children;
· recognition that prevalence figures concerning the numbers of children and young people involved in the workplace cannot be taken as a quantification of the problem of child labour; terminology should be found to distinguish between working children and those suffering from different kinds and degrees of exploitation in the workplace;
· a commitment to improvement in the quality of schooling and education in all environments where there is evidence that children and families find it irrelevant to their needs and where teachers routinely behave abusively towards pupils.