economics freedom

Child Labor

I cringe whenever I read about child labor laws. Western, prosperous countries have a real aversion to the thought of child laborers and anew quick to denounce and to combat it. Every time another concession is reached to limit child labor the success is trumpeted and progress is seen to have been made. Funnily enough, I have never seen any of those organizations track the outcomes of the children themselves to see if they are being helped.

Like everything else in life, the issue of child labor is about options. I can guarantee that whenever you find child laborers, you will find crushing poverty as well. I believe the best way to think about child labor is to imagine what they will do if they are not allowed to work legally. Clearly, if they needed to work before, the passing of a law will not change that circumstance. We have an analog of what happens right here in this country with illegal aliens. When you are not permitted to work legally, you are driven underground. You might find regular work, but at a much lower rate of pay. The ones that aren’t lucky enough to find work as gardeners, carpenters, cooks, etc. or aren’t willing to accept the low wages end up in the black markets. Drugs, prostitution, and other types of illegal activities are careers open to people that can’t find legal jobs.

I don’t have any evidence, but there are plenty of anecdotal accounts of sheet children being forced out of jobs by the new laws and into much less savory occupations. The stories from Yemen alone are heartbreaking, I can’t imagine what its like in more urban places like SE Asia.

I wish that people that pursue these laws would spend as much time worrying about what the kids will do once they lose their job. I also wish that people in the US and Europe would understand that they don’t really have a good idea of what real poverty is like and what choices people living in it face. Child labor is a terrible thing, no doubt, but if we’re going to take that away from kids, we need to provide them with something other than the thing they are avoiding by working…

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