Child Labor Role in the Global Economy


The International Labor Office defines child labor as any task that goes beyond studies and play (Beegle, Dehejia & Gatti, 2006). Any form of employment offered to a child amounts to child labor regardless of whether remuneration is given or not. Child labor is a global problem in the contemporary world and statistics reveal an increasing trend despite the numerous laws against the practice. Child labor is most prevalent in Asia and Africa. The two continents account for approximately 90% of children subjected to the child labor worldwide (Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2006).

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Different factors contribute to child labor ranging from poverty to neglect by parents and guardians. However, poverty is cited as the main cause of the practice. India is allegedly the most affected by this problem due to its large population and high poverty levels (Basu, Das & Dutta, 2010). It is estimated that more than 44 million children in India are victims of the practice. Considering the view that child labor is now a global aspect, this paper will analyze the issues surrounding child labor, its causes, and the prevalence rates in different countries. The paper will also suggest measures that could be adopted to help in controlling the practice.


A report released by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2002 revealed that more than 250 million children were subject to child labor across the world. The report also indicated that 179 million children were involved in the provision of labor in extremely dangerous sites. In other words, one child in every eight-child laborers was involved in the worst forms of labor. The number of child laborers varies from one sector to another depending on the required skills. The agricultural sector accounts for 70% of all child laborers since bare skills are needed to work in the sector (Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2005).

The mining sector attracts a considerable number of child laborers, and according to the 2002 statistics, the sector had employed at least 1% children. The same statistics revealed that the construction sector had employed 2% child laborers. The 2004 statistics revealed a slight decrease in the number of child laborers from 250 million in year 2002 to 218 million children (Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2006). The same report revealed that out of the 218 million child laborers, 126 million children worked in hazardous environments (Beegle, Dehejia & Gatti, 2006). The report further revealed that children formed 40-50% of forced laborers. Child labor is highly prevalent in developing countries especially the African countries probably due to poverty. A 2010 survey revealed that the sub Saharan African countries had the highest numbers of child laborers with most countries having 50% of their children in employment (Basu, Das & Dutta, 2010).

However, the number of child laborers worldwide is seen to have a decreasing trend. According to a report tabled by both the UNICEF and ILO in 2013, the number of child laborers had dropped significantly to 168 million down from 250 million in 2002. However, the number is still too high and aggressive measures should be adopted in order to cut down the numbers.

Causes of child labor


Poverty is one of the main reasons why most children resort to early employment. The majority of people in the world live in absolute poverty and they can barely take good care of their children (Weston, 2005). Statistics show that more than 25% of people in the world live below the poverty line, hence the need for their children to work. Poverty explains the high number of child laborers in most African and Asian countries. The problem of poverty has been compounded by the move by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to direct developing countries to cut down their overall public expenditure in order to avoid debts (Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2005). The move has seen many countries abandon their new job creation agendas in order to comply with the requirement, thus leading to high unemployment and poverty levels. In most cases, poor parents will be forced to send their children to hazardous jobs in order to supplement their earnings.


The high cost associated with the acquisition of education is high and prohibitive in most countries (Beegle, Dehejia & Gatti, 2006). This aspect prompts children to drop from school and join the labor market at very tender ages. Failure to join school provides an incentive for children to start working in sectors that require less skilled workers such as the farming sector (Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2006). In addition, children are a source of cheap labor and many firms are tempted to hire minors in order to cut down the operating costs.

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Labor laws and support by certain governments

Most countries across the world have put in place laws illegalizing child labor. Unfortunately, the laws are not implemented appropriately (Basu, Das & Dutta, 2010). In addition, some administrations are in support of child labor since children provide cheap labor, thus giving a country a competitive advantage in the market (Weston, 2005). Additionally, the laws aim at abolishing child labor through replacement of the already working minors with adult employees. Such a move may not work appropriately since most child laborers are unskilled and they are forced to join the labor market by poverty. Laying them off may cause more harm than good, which explains why most entities remain adamant in laying off workers in fear that they may result in criminal acts.

Inequality and desire to exploit minors

Many countries in the world face the challenge of unequal distribution of resources. Brazil is a good example of a country where inequality is a common phenomenon. The country has about 198 million people of which about 5 million are squatters who live in absolute poverty. Ironically, a few individuals own 75% of the fertile lands and they exploit the poor by employing them in their big farms (Basu, Das & Dutta, 2010). The group of landowners are very influential and they oppose the government’s attempts to redistribute the land.


Illiteracy is another cause of child labor especially in developing countries (Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2006). Illiterate parents have little or no understanding of the importance of their children’s physical and cognitive development and they do not understand the dangers caused by child labor. Additionally, uneducated parents do not see the importance of educating their children since they believe education plays no role in the future of their children.

Significance for nursing practice

The topic on child labor is important in the nursing practice since this form of employment results in health complications on the part of the child (Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2005). It affects the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological development, thus leading to retarded growth. Additionally, child labor causes illnesses emanating from injuries and exposure to dangerous chemicals leading to increased health budgets. Nurses and other health professionals are in a better position to identify children at risk of being subjected to child labor and offer professional advice to parents and guardians accordingly (Weston, 2005). Nurses have direct contact with patients, and thus they can gather information regarding children who are subjected to any form of child labor. During the process of dispensing their mandate, nurses ought to identify and evaluate the industrial and ecological health risks evident in places where children reside whether in the urban or rural communities. The involvement of nurses and health practitioners is essential in the fight against child labor since health professional are the ones who can successfully set the safety standards in the work place.

Strategies to reduce child labor

Governments should lower the cost of education by subsidizing uniforms, stationery, and other educational materials in addition to making elementary education free and compulsory for all. Additionally, governments should increase the education budgets to facilitate building of new schools. Increasing the number of schools will ensure that every child accesses quality education at his/her convenience (Basu, Das & Dutta, 2010). Governments in partnership with employers should ensure that laws regulating child labor are implemented effectively in a bid to help in averting incidences of child labor (Beegle, Dehejia & Gatti, 2006). According to statistics, more than 800 million adults in the world are unemployed (Basu, Das & Dutta, 2010). The same statistics reveal that about 250 million children holding job positions in different countries all over the world (Basu, Das & Dutta, 2010). Developing strategies aimed at replacing the children with adult employees would go a long way in fighting the vice since adult employees are better remunerated as compared to children. The replacement of children with adult employees will thus help in fighting poverty and increase family income.

In addition, most children resort to the vice due to poverty and lack of education. The international community should work with the third world countries and devise programs aimed at helping poor children to access education (Basu, Das & Dutta, 2010). The international community could also work with various governments agencies to provide education to employers on the need to drop child labor in favor of adults. The existent laws should be implemented and others enacted to supplement the existing ones. The society should also be educated on the risks involved in child labor and advised to act as watchdogs for the governments and other anti-child labor organizations (Weston, 2005). The World Bank and the IMF should work together to provide low interest loans to poor countries in order to facilitate job creation.

Effects of child labor on health

Child laborers in the agricultural sector are at high risk of falling ill due to the dangerous chemicals used in the production process such as pesticides and fungicides (Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2006). Children are not immune to diseases as opposed to adults and are thus they are vulnerable to illnesses from hazardous working conditions. In addition to the risks posed by the dangerous chemicals, children are also at a risk of suffering from injuries from the machines and tools used in farms. According to a study conducted in Philippines in 1998, 60% of child laborers were exposed to biological, environmental or chemical hazards (Edmonds, 2005). Twenty-four percent (24%) of children workers were found to be suffering from work-related ailments, which included cuts and skin illnesses (Edmonds, 2007).

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Research indicates that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 70% of all children workers in the world. Out of eight children working in the sector, one is reported to suffer from injuries resulting in the course of carrying out their duties (Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2005). The sector has little or no safety measures and children are exposed to dangerous agricultural chemicals, which might pose great danger to the child’s health. Children are in psychological and biological developmental stages and exposure to chemicals and other health hazards is likely to have negative impacts on their health. Children are more vulnerable to injuries as compared to adults and they are sensitive to noise, heat, and other toxic materials due to immaturity of their body systems.

Children are exposed to hard tasks that include lifting heavy loads (Edmonds & Pavcnik, 2006). Lifting heavy loads may affect a child’s development in a number of ways. Firstly, children’s bones develop during adolescence, and thus lifting heavy things can cause damage to the bones or hinder proper development (Weston, 2005). Secondly, exposure to chemicals may hinder the development of organs and tissues in the body of a child. Thirdly, exposure to noise can affect the child’s hearing ability. Lastly, children have relatively lower tolerance to heat than adults are since their sweat glands are not fully developed.

Health organizations actions

Many international organizations have come out to fight for the rights of children and eliminate child labor (Basu, Das & Dutta, 2010). However, the most aggressive one is the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that has offered to fight the vice across the world. The UNICEF targets countries that are most affected by the vice and its efforts in fighting child labor cannot be ignored. In India, the organization has mobilized families to organize themselves into groups before giving them financial support to eradicate poverty (Beegle, Dehejia & Gatti, 2006). Additionally, the organization has assisted poor children to enroll in schools coupled with providing training on life skills to young girls and other child laborers in the country.

In Senegal, the UNICEF has persuaded the Italian government to cancel the country’s debt so that the funds can be used to support initiatives aimed at eradicating child labor (Edmonds, 2005). In addition to the UNICEF, international human rights organizations have come out to oppose child labor. Actions by the human rights organizations have led to the alteration of countries’ labor policies. The human rights organizations have mobilized big companies to reduce the number of child laborers in their respective firms. The International Labor Organization (ILO) is another organization that has been in the forefront in the fight against child labor. The organization is credited for launching the World Day against Child Labor, which is celebrated annually and it is meant to mobilize people to stand against the practice.


Child labor refers to the act of subjecting a minor to a task that is likely to cause harm to his/her body or affect the child’s development. Child labor is a problem affecting most countries in the world. The vice is prevalent in the third world countries and it is attributed to poverty amongst other factors. Child labor contributes significantly to adult unemployment since children are ready to work for lesser amounts than adults hence they end up being employed. The number of children in employment continues to increase despite the existence of laws prohibiting employers from recruiting children. Various human rights organizations have come up to protect the rights of children, but the problem persists. Strict measures need to be put in place to eradicate the practice and avert the negative consequences resulting from child labor.


Basu, K., Das, S., & Dutta, B. (2010). Child labor and household wealth: Theory and empirical evidence of an inverted-U. Journal of Development Economics, 91(1), 8-14.

Beegle, K., Dehejia, H., & Gatti, R. (2006). Child labor and agricultural shocks. Journal of Development Economics, 81(1), 80-96.

Edmonds, E. (2005). Does child labor decline with improving economic status? Journal of Human Resources, 40(1), 77-99.

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Edmonds, E. (2007). Child labor. In T. Schultz & J. Strauss (Eds.), Handbook of Development Economics Volume 4 (pp. 56-94). Amsterdam, Holland: Elsevier Science.

Edmonds, E., & Pavcnik, N. (2005). Child labor in the global economy. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19(1), 199-220.

Edmonds, E., & Pavcnik, N. (2006). International trade and child labor: cross-country evidence. Journal of International Economics, 68(1), 115-140.

Weston, B. (2005). Child labor and human rights: Making children matter. Boulder, CU: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

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