Labor Exploitation Prostitution


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Labor Exploitation Prostitution

Child Labor

I. Introduction: Child Labor Incidents

Child Labor is a global moral crisis. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) in a 1998 study, there are about 250 million children in the world, aged 5 to 14, who work full time to earn a daily wage (“Eliminating Child Labor”, 2001). Moreover, there are about 150 to 200 million children, majority of them are girls, who work to provide for their families. In most of the countries were child labor is widespread, some 80% of working children get to work 7 days a week. In Asia, 90 million children are laborers. In South Asian countries, there is an increasing number of incidents where young girls are taken to prostitution and sexual harassment. Meanwhile, the ILO found out that boys aged between 6 and 10 are shipped to the Middle East because they are preferred to become came race jockeys. In Africa, about 33% of children sell their labor. Indeed, Africa has he highest proportion of child laborers in the world. More than 70% of children in Sierra Leone and Niger work (Allison, 2003). And in all, there are about one in every three African children working on a daily basis.

In Latin America, there are about 5.1 million children working as common laborers. What is most surprising, however, is that child labor still persists even in developed countries. In Spain and in other Western European countries, the average number of child laborers per countries is about 100,000. In the United Kingdom, the number is staggering: 40% of the children involved in labor are even illegal (“Eliminating Child Labor”, 2001). In the entire developing world, there is just the cold hard fact that 19% of all children work.

II. Children Exploitation

The worse forms of child labor are those that let children work in hazardous environments. Hundreds of boys in Colombia work in a labor-intensive coal mines. Because of their diminutive sizes, Colombian children are the ones who are told to slip through low and narrow passageways to pick small coals. (Weiss man, 1997). And then these children carry sacks of coal out of the open. Exposed to high levels of dust, most of these children grow up with lung diseases. In Cambodia, children work in brick factories, often laboring bare-handed and bare-footed. Bricks breaking one’s feet or hands are common and many are cut while working with heavy machinery. The biggest complaint, however, wasn’t the high incidents of injury, but of fatigue. These children, when interviewed by the Asian-American Free Labor Institute, were discovered to have been laboring because of their debt with their employer. Burma, Thailand, Nepal, India, Vietnam and Cambodia are countries with high incidence of young girls being sold to prostitution, which markets prostitution to Europe, Middle East, Australia, Hawaii, Japan—you name it.

The following just mentioned are forms of child labors at its worse form. The UNICEF and other international agencies all state that the most despicable child laborers are those that are similar to slavery—indeed, like the trafficking of children, serfdom, forced labor, and serfdom. We have seen in Sierra Leone and in some parts of African that children are even used in armed conflict. Oftentimes, the children’s parents accrue debt that they pledge their sons and daughters to pay for it. Although, debts are small, the children lose their entire childhood—and in some cases, their entire lives—to pay off the debt that is often built by a fraudulent accounting mechanism employed by the debt holders (Ibid). This is a usual practice in Nepal, wherein they call their bonded laborers as “Kamaiya”, which keeps families in debt for generations. But it is in India and Pakistan that debt bondage is most pervasive because it is supported by longstanding traditions against low caste groups and/or minority ethnic groups.

III. When Child Labor became a World Crisis

Child labor has existed for centuries. It has only come to light as a problem in the early 20th century, when Lewis Parker, a South Carolina cotton miller owner, testified against a proposed Congressional legislation that would outlaw child labor completely in the United States. What made child labor a problem was that there were people supporting it despite being immoral, and they were doing it in the name of their individual business. Fortunately, history was enlightened enough to point out that Parker was wrong. Later, most U.S. states have stopped the use of Child labor. Starting in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson regulated child labor; and in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act completely banned child labor. It would take several more years to enforce this law throughout the country; still, the United States was one of the first countries in the world to have effectively eradicated it. Now, the debate of child labor reaches a worldwide scale. And it has become a global crisis because what Lewis Parker was clamoring against is being replayed by third world countries—that child labor is needed in their rising poverty.

Americans were reminded on the presence of child labor beginning with a labor activist who revealed that Kathie Lee Grifford’s, a day-time talk show host, line of sportswear was made by youngsters laboring in long hours in a Honduran sweatshop (Berlau, 1997). Since that time, child labor issues have haunted Capitol Hill. The truth was, the United States has really got rid of child labor, but behind the curtains many U.S. multinational companies have been exploiting it, especially in the apparel industry such as Nike, Reebok, and Liz Claiborne. Consequently, former President Bill Clinton organized an industry wide agreement on U.S. companies not to employ children in their overseas factories. This was coupled with a legislative interference that would ensure that bans and sanctions would be in placed in countries who export products made by children.

One example of such legislation was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa. In 1992, he introduced the Child Labor Deterrence Act (or simply the Harkin’s bill), which completely banned imported good made by laborers below 14 years of age (Lopez & Calva, 2001). Chris Smith, a former Republican Representative of New Jersey, added to the ban that if countries were found to exploit children as laborers, the U.S. would cut off its foreign aid to them. Smith equated that putting a 9-year-old in a sweatshop is equivalent to slavery or unlawful imprisonment. Smith was particularly adamant against Chinese factories.

IV. Causes of Child Labor

There are numerous factors that contribute to the growth of child labor. The most important one is economic globalization. Because globalization intensified price competition for a global consumer marker, everyone just started to look any means that could lower their cost. Child labor has always been equated with lower cost, because children’s wages are very low, they don’t complain and they easily agree to work long hours with no overtime pay. Indeed, this is the very reason that a number of children are increasing in sewing factories in Haiti, Honduras and Guatemala, who make the products of Disney, Wal-Mart, Philips, Van Heusen, etc (Weiss man, 1997). Unregulated and unchecked, there is truly no stopping the growth of child labor.

But, as empirical evidence shows, the most robust determinant of child labor are still the poverty status of the household and education (Lopez & Calva, 2001). Surprisingly, the wages that the children does not affect the decision of the parents to put their children to work; it only matters to them that because of their poverty status, their children has to work one way or another. Moreover, it has been found that other factors such as cultural traditions, permanent shocks (like divorce), or even the availability of opportunity do not necessarily make the parent decide to put their child to work to replace their schooling. It would take enormous amount of pressure from poverty that leads them place their child to labor—and in many third world countries, many experiences the exact kind of pressure.

At the heart of the debate, there are two competing motivations behind child labor: is it about preference, or is it about constraint. “Would parents prefer to send their children to work if they weren’t facing sever economic constraints? Would parents send their children to work if they really had the opportunity to choose?” (Lopez & Calva, 2001). Basu and Van published their findings in 1998 that proved that child labor was a phenomenon directly related more to constraints and not to preferences.

V. The Great Dilemma behind the Crisis

With poverty as the main determinant of child labor, the United States and other developed countries are met with a more troubling scenario. For instance, in some countries like Ecuador and its banana plantations, who encourages child labor to gain more profit, they actually don’t have any other choice to rise themselves from poverty. So when activists from affluent countries join and group together in a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting, and win the act of banning Ecuador’s products and foreclose them, they are also effectively closing the last major option for the poorest of people (Sowell, 2002). The result is that the activist celebrates their moral victory, but the country they have foreclosed the factories are now a lot poorer.

Here is then the great dilemma facing the child labor crisis. Campaigns against child labor in developing countries can definitely have unintended consequences of endangering children. When children lose their jobs in garment factories, for example, you can bet that they would necessarily go back to school. Oftentimes, they find more dangerous sources of income just to make a living. Indeed, according to Berlau (1997), child labor laws such as the Harkin’s bill could only work in countries with higher standards of living. After gathering evidences, scholars have come to the generalization that its easy for us Americans to label child labor as inhumane and debate against it; it’s easy for the U.S. to tell India or Pakistan to stop child labor “immediately, effectively, or else”; but it’s not easy to have considered the alternatives.

The Harkin’s bill when adopted against Bangladesh was monitored closely by UNICEF. Follow-up visits confirmed that the bill did free the 50,000 children from the garment factories, but it did not answer to the reality of poverty. Children were still trapped in a harsh environment with no skills, no access to education, and no economic alternatives. Thus, they went to new sources of income like street hustling, prostitution, stone-crushing, which are a lot more hazardous than their former job at the garment factory. Furthermore, more mothers quit their jobs to look for their children who have become unemployed, leading to a more impoverished state for families.

The reality in many third world countries is that garment factories serve as lifeblood in the economic survival of the massive poor population. In fact, too many children, especially girls, would even lie about their ages to try to get to work in a garment factory. To them, working there is even prestigious given the fact that its salary and working conditions are comparatively better than other available jobs. Compare this to other jobs like domestic house work in Bangladesh. Not only are these jobs very low paying, but its children get abused.

Child labor issues aren’t a black-and-white debate. Right now, many are realizing that its not like child labor is bad and should be stop, but one also has to consider the enormous consequence of that. Of course, it is morally correct to stop these children from working, but there’s also the economic factor of survival and improving their conditions. It is possible for other countries to outlaw child labor and the united States have to realize that that’s a long term mission. And developed countries should also realize that child-labor laws can only work in third world countries only when its standards of living had risen to a level where it is no longer an economic necessity for children to work (Berlau, 1997). So if you boil down everything together, the greatest enabling factor for social legislation is still economic growth.

VI. How Child Labor Laws and the United Nations are failing

There were some Child labor laws that limit the bringing of goods from foreign country made by children such as the Rug mark program, which was an international project that certified products without the use of child labor. There are others that completely banned such products such as the Harkin’s Bill. But this bill became obsolete once the UNICEF found out that it has unintended consequences of endangering children more. In addition, the bill became controversial as third world non-governmental organizations denounced it as a form of protectionism by unfairly penalizing poor countries (Weiss man, 1997). Meanwhile, United Nations, organizations, and professionals did not attend the children’s program goal. Kawewe and Dibie (1999) argued that the U.N was still unsuccessful to remove obstacles that could have advanced the welfare of children. For example, the U.N. continually fails to challenge some harmful fundamental cultural values and practices such as those traditional discriminatory acts against those belonging in the lower caste groups in India. This failure has led to non-action against children’s exploitation.

VII. Possible Routes to End Child Labor

The Harkin’s bill has been changed when economists participated in its reform. The new version would take action against child labor “under circumstances to involuntary servitude or under exposure to toxic substances or working conditions otherwise posing serious health hazards” (Weiss man, 1997). These changes in the bill are just one of the small steps to do in bringing a total end to global child labor. Certainly, this is a crisis that is hard to solve and would unlikely be solved within the decade. Simple laws of economics—of the law of supply and demand—prevent its eradication. As long as developed countries demand products made by child labors, even unknowingly, then companies would keep doing what their doing, sell it as long as it’s making profit. True, legislation can reduce child labor, but there is always a good chance that employers sneak in a group of children in their factories. Hence, the possible (or perhaps the only) route for ending child labor is to stop our dependence of cheap foreign labor.

VIII. Conclusion

Child labor is a fundamental issue and it is very likely that it would have a future effect on children psychological and physical performance for generations. Fight against child labor is an essential task in order to contribute to the creation of a good policy. Still, there is a long road ahead. Child labor is a direct consequence of poverty and unemployment. To ban the products by child labor would have unintended consequences. The Harkin’s bill, despite its changes, would only work when it regulates products; at the same time, accompanies compulsory schooling and other forms of foreign aid directed to the welfare of the families. In any case, the dimension of the crisis truly deserves more attention both in the economic and public policy circles.


“Eliminating child labor: A look at the present scenario” (2001) The Independent (Bangladesh). Retrieved 3rd of May, 2008, from

Allison, T. (2003) “Solving child labor starts with the United Nations” University Wire. Retrieved 3rd of May, 2008, from

Berlau, J. (1997) “The paradox of child-labor reform” Insight of the News. Retrieved 3rd of May, 2008, from

Kawewe, S. and Dibie, R. (1999) “United Nations and the problem of women and children abuse in Third World nations” Social Justice. Retrieved 3rd of May, 2008, from

Lopez-Calva, L. (2001) “Child labor: myths, theories and facts” Journal of International Affairs. Retrieved 3rd of May, 2008, from

Sowell, T. (2002) “Truth about third world 'exploitation'” Human Events. Retrieved 3rd of May, 2008, from

Weissman, R. (1997) “Stolen youth: brutalized children, globalization and the campaign to end child labor” Multinational Monitor. Retrieved 3rd of May, 2008, from

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