Child Labor: Is it really that bad?

There are several things that we as human beings see as being incredibly bad such as genocide, suffering, cruelty, discrimination and child labor. But is child labor really as bad as it sounds?

Today, according to the UN, there are approximately 152 million children engaged in child labor. There are clear negatives to this: children are being robbed of their childhoods in exchange for meager wages in unsafe conditions, young minds are manipulated into believing that working in a place where they are unsure if they will be alive at the end of the day in exchange for a couple of cents is normal, and the universal right of education, sanctioned by the UN, is being stolen away out of the hands of children. Child labor is rightfully illegal throughout the devloped world to prevent the employment of children in jobs that are detrimental to their health and safety.

 The International Labour Organization (ILO), estimates that the numbers of children being sent out to work in the harshest and most dangerous types of jobs have been cut in half since 2000 and says that an increasing number of countries are adopting legislation against child labor every year. 

However in some countries, child labor runs rampant. But why do some countries allow such blatant human rights abuse to continue? In Eritrea, one of the most closed states in the world, children between grades 9-11 are forced to work for two months in the gruelling summer under a program known as Mahtot. These children do heavy manual labor such as building roads on behalf of the state. Foreignpolicy.com says: “Moreover, the government recruits children under the age of 18 for mandatory military service that doubles as a work program.” According to reports from the U.S. Department of Labor and Human Rights Watch, military conscripts are used as forced laborers at Bisha, the country’s largest gold mine. Eritrea’s economy overwhelmingly depends on mining, and the government appears to have no intention to reform its child labor practices. This highlights one of the uglier aspects of child labor and answers the question asked earlier. The answer is simple and a sobering smack to the face: In some places, it is necessary. 

Compassion.com states “Forced labor is thought to generate around $150 billion a year in illegal profits. More than two-thirds of all children in child labor (69.1 percent) work as contributing family laborers on family farms and in family enterprises, not in an employment relationship with a third-party employer.”  This shows that for employers who are willing to disregard morals, there are clear benefits. Governments who overlook child labor can reap huge economic benefits from partaking in an industry worth more than $150 billion a year. Employers can get away with children doing more difficult work for less money. Children’s small and nimble hands and bodies can get to places where adults cannot which makes the work even more dangerous for the child and even more profitable for the employer. Many families are also reliant on their children to provide the necessary resources for self sustainment. Due to the fact that such a large percentage of child laborers work to contribute to their families it can be distorted into seeming morally correct simply because it is a necessity.

So, is child labor really that bad? Despite being a necessity for certain businesses, families and children, all three should move away from it. Child labor, despite its economic benefits is clearly morally wrong as it robs children of their childhoods. It also ruins educational oppurtunities for children who prioritize work over schooling and therefore despite the benefits, child labor really is that bad.

Author’s note- The author does not condone child labor and is merely attempting to prompt thought and discussion on the matter.

By: Eli Haverman

4 Comments

  1. Dear sir/madam, First of thank you for your concern about children, child labor. I am Eritrean, a master’s University student. I born and raised in Eritrea, the country we call as Heaven over the earth! It is heaven, because of its internal peace and stability, social justice and equality, universal free and fair social services and social welfare.
    I born from a farming family in a rural, village community. But I equally got all child opportunities from the 6th age enrolling for education as any child in urban or of rich family. This was the result of the government policy of social justice and equality! I passed through what you called Matot and National Service. I am very proud and see that experience as very great opportunity which makes me a man, a proud Eritrean, a hard-working Eritrean, and above all a self reliant, self dependent young Eritrean!
    I wouldn’t be that if I hadn’t passed through all these opportunities.
    You mentioned Meatot as typical example of child labor! If you are a real academician or researcher, I wish you come to Eritrea and see by your eyes.
    You would regret to say this!
    With all due respect your article is very misleading, misinforming sounding as political allegations and blackmailing.
    First a student participated in a so called Matot, defined as physical training, sport , self discipline and above all work ethic, is in grade 9 & 10 only (means at the age of at least 16 and above). They make that practice for two or three weeks for 1 hour. The aim is just to make the student love work, to develop work ethic and to be self dependent when he become part of the society. And this is in the summer vacation. Is that child labor?

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    1. apologies, I found it difficult to find testimony from someone who has actually been through Matot. I concede your point of developing work ethic but I believe that you’re missing the true purpose of the article which is to highlight that child labor isn’t outright 100% bad, which your defense of Matot shows

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  2. Perhaps you should be looking at Congo – DRC, Gambia, Liberia and others if you are really interested in child labour in mines. Certainly not Eritrea. Whatever conjectures you have here on Eritrea is far from the reality on the ground and certainly shows how uninformed this piece is. It serves you well to engage, read and ask people of different persuasion from that country.

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