The problem persists.
China has made great efforts to fight against child labor and to provide a legal basis forbidding companies and entities to use it. Despite the legislative requirements, law enforcement cannot supervise the entire country as China is big and its economy has developed with regional imbalances.
Hidden in low-skill service sectors and small workshops and businesses; including textile, toy, and shoe manufacturing enterprises, the practice of child labor is a persistent problem within our country. Those places have no licenses and change their locations frequently. Kids are promised high salaries, but they get beaten and extorted instead.
Poverty is the problem.
Child labor is merely the symptom of a greater disease named poverty. The government tries to prevent abuses and to protect human rights, and also to establish the legal basis for fair labor contracts and their enforcement.
But a simple ban on child labor doesn’t end the problem. It needs to be supported by social welfare measures, improvements in employment legislation and society at large.
Above all, education is the main cure.
A problem which goes beyond childhood.
A factor that contributes to poverty is the situation of migrant workers. Hundreds of millions of them leave the countryside every year to find work in the city and often have to leave their children behind. Many of them now also leave their rural homes straight after school and engage in strenuous labor.
Working at an early ages interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. Within only a few years, many of these kids start suffering from conditions that usually affect people over 60-70 years old. This way, they are most likely to end up being poor in the future.
Compared to India.
Current measures can still be improved. However, the evolution in China is very optimistic if compared with its neighbor, India. That is because China has a culture of education, which has long been praised and valued as the flagship of social ascension, of improving one’s life and social status.
In the mid-20th century, both countries had a similar problem: too few of their children were attending primary school. The Chinese state has been a lot more efficient was in the implementation of a policy promoting universal primary education.
Of course India did have a similar goal, but the Chinese policy was a lot more effective and straightforward. This shows the impact a strong political will coupled with well-defined goals can have, as opposed to governments who often delay the implementation of serious reforms due to popularism (trying to please everyone, including the richer classes in the case of India). Engaging in profound reforms requires a tremendous amount of commitment, work and willpower to change a society.
Education, the solution.
As stated above, a proper education is the solution to poverty. The government has to make it accessible to everyone, not only in an active way, but also in easing the work of social organizations.
About 15 years ago, China achieved its goal of universal primary education and thus managed to wipe out most of child labor occurring in the country, or at least up to a certain age. It seems clear that schooling is the most effective antidote.
More Laws vs. More Freedom.
However, governments still disagree on the best legal course forward to address child labor. Some suggest the need for laws that place a blanket ban on any work by children less than 18 years old. Others like Bolivia legalize child labor from age 10 in order to guarantee legal protection and fair wages for children, who have been working regardless of laws against it.
It was widespread for children to work under the age of 14 in Bolivia, despite the fact that it was illegal. Accordingly, rather than attempt to enforce existing laws, the government it seems has tried to regulate matters in a way that conforms more to their local social standards and conditions.
The new criteria expands the former Code for Children and Adolescents, which previously held no exceptions to the 14-year-old minimum, recognizing that children must work out of necessity in light of Bolivia’s dire circumstances.
Under its provisions, 10 year olds are able to work if they are self-employed and if they simultaneously attend school. Similarly, the legislation sets 12 as the minimum age that a child is allowed to work under contract, if they possess parental authorization and continue their education.
Other provisions include stringent requirements for employers to ensure the physical and mental health of employed children, a harsher punishment for violence against under aged children (up to a 30 year jail sentence for child homicide), voluntary consent from the child and parents, and the mandatory permission from a public ombudsman. Additionally, working hours are limited to 6 per day for 14 to 17 years old, and this regulation forbids employing them for the most harmful jobs such as mining.
Some scholars suggest that more laws will do more harm than good. According to them, if laws ban all lawful work that enables the poor to survive, informal economy, illicit operations and underground businesses will thrive. These will increase abuse of the children. In poor countries with very high incidence rates of child labor, the alternatives for children who currently work are worse: grinding subsistence farming, militia or prostitution. Child labor sometimes is not a choice; it is a necessity, the only option for survival. It is currently the least undesirable of a set of very bad choices.
So when cases come up, we can’t just send them back to their miserable lives. In a recent case in Jiangsu Province, the kids have been accommodated into vocational schools until the case is settled, they will be paid wages owed to them and then be sent back home to poverty. Both slavery and poverty are miserable kinds of lives.
Does child labor still exist in developing countries?
Accurate present day child labor information is difficult to obtain because of disagreements between data sources as to what constitutes child labor in each country. In addition, and contrary to popular beliefs, most child laborers are employed by their parents rather than in manufacturing or formal economy, what makes it more difficult to answer this question.
However, it’s obvious that in contrast to child labor in the developing world, the money earned by working teenagers is in most cases spend not on the welfare of the family as a whole, but on the teenagers own personal life.
Potential positives of children working.
Bolivia is the only nation in the world that tolerates legal employment at such young ages. However, it seemed to be a socially acceptable fact of life there before the passing of the new regulations.
Besides the obvious unfortunate reasons for child labor in this country, in Andean culture work is seen as an important agent of socialization for children as it is an integral part of their inclusion into the wider community, and it enables them to learn traditional societal values. Children work in order to contribute to the cohesiveness of family units and while the whole community works together to protect children.
The term child labor can be misleading when it confuses harmful work with employment that may be beneficial to children. In most families in the world, domestic work extends to productive activities, especially herding and various types of agriculture, and to a variety of small family businesses. Where trading is a significant feature of social life, children can start trading in small items at an early age, often in the company of family members or of peers.
While full-time work hinders schooling, empirical evidence is varied on the relationship between part-time work and school. Sometimes even part-time work may hinder school attendance or performance. On the other hand, many poor children work for resources to attend school. Also, good relations with a supervisor at work can provide relief from tensions that children feel at school and home.
In the modern world, school education has become so central to society that schoolwork has become the dominant work for most children, often replacing participation in productive work and the development of useful skills.
Studies of economic and social data suggest that early 20th-century child labor in Europe and the United States ended in large part as a result of the economic development of the formal regulated economy, technological development and general prosperity. Child labor laws came later, but a cheap labor force was not itself the basis for economic growth. On the contrary, education, equal opportunities and free trade were the basis for achieving economic development and helped to eliminate child labor.
Shortsighted measures are not enough. Governments should focus on economic engagement and putting emphasis on opening quality schools and allowing private initiatives.