Is child labor really so bad?

My mother researched her ancestry throughout the 60s, 70s, & 80s mostly by finding records at courthouses, libraries, etc & interviewing elderly relatives, both in the US & abroad. She recently gave me all the records & transcripts of interviews & I learned that all of my ancestors were child laborers just like their own ancestors.

One branch of the family were tobacco farmers (though they had animals too) and the kids got up before sunrise (“We got up with the chickens & worked til dusk…”). They fed the animals, milked the cows, collected eggs, assisted with butchering animals, worked the fields, etc

Another branch of the family made crockery and the kids also worked rather than went to school. In this family, the boys worked with their dad & uncle making pottery & the girls cooked, cleaned & sewed with their mother.

I can see why child labor is frowned upon in countries like the US, where going to school is an option for every child regardless of income, but what about developing countries? In many such countries, the parents have to pay to send their children to school & many cannot afford it. Is it better to have a child just play all day or learn the family trade so they can carry it on and survive once the parents pass on? In the case of my ancestors (or at least those who went on record), they described their childhoods fondly & seemed to feel proud of the work they accomplished.

So is child labor really so bad?

I found it bad when I was a child. My Daddy made us all have jobs to do. Even my youngest sister was dusting furniture at 3.
He always said busy hands have less time to cause havoc.
What I hated the most was minding the younger kids. As I aged up it became easier. As a teen i was a very popular sitter in our community, I had skills with babies, it seems. I made lotsa spending cash. It did me no harm.

Leaving aside the obvious dangers of working children, play appears to be critical for human development. Much in the same way cats play to learn hunting skills, humans play to learn how to navigate a complex social environment. When kids can’t play, they may be left with social-emotional deficits. I believe it’s the World Health Organization that has declared children’s play to be a critical human right.

And when you say “child labor” it could mean any number of things. I started helping with the family business when I was nine got my first paid job at 13, etc. But I didn’t work 70 hours week and I had plenty of time to play, so that’s not the same thing as “child labor” in my mind. I think like Upton Sinclair “The Jungle” kind of stuff, kids losing fingers and dying in mine shafts, pretty evidently not a great idea.

I agree about overwork and no play, but most of the accounts i have read make it sound like the length of a school day.

Beckdawrek- All in all do you give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.

…are you defining child labor as “babysitting, a paper run, or minding the shop”, or as “being sent up a chimney to clean it with a toothbrush, or working 70 hours a day for a few dollars sewing clothes?”

The concept of ‘child labor’ is associated with the industrial revolution. Children worked on farms and in trades as appropriate to their age and abilities, with no more harm than they’d receive at the hands of their family under any circumstance. Factory work, however, is much more dangerous and has less flexibility.

My spouse and mother in law grew up on farms and loved the work.

Education increases worker productivity and incomes, which will help people escape from poverty. Parents pulling their kids from school to work just keeps the cycle of poverty going. In theory the more education you have the more productive you will be at whatever job you end up in, the more income you will earn and the more you will escape poverty.

Here is a chart of lifetime earnings by education.

Granted, who knows how much is cause and effect (the people who do not get educations may have other issues that lower their productivity and income earning potential. Low IQ, mental illness, physical illness, etc). But there is a trendline of more education meaning more income.

Basically its bad if the kids have to pick work over school. Plus I know in college, students working too many hours is a major reason that college students drop out. Granted college students aren’t technically ‘kids’, but the same trend would hold. The more hours you work, the more likely you are to drop out of school.

The very concept of “childhood” (a time of carefree innocence) is a modern invention. As noted by others, until recently it was completely normal for children to work on the family farm as soon as they were old enough to do so. That’s the reason why the school-year is the way it is: children were needed on the farm during the summer: they could only be spared to go to school during the slower months.

Spring and Autumn are the busiest times on a farm, not summer.

I’m defining child labor as a child spending his/her ‘school day’ working instead of going to school (8am-3pm in my world, September to June). Work load may be very light or heavy, depending on the season, but overall the hours would average out to be similar to an American kid’s school day.

This was the case in the numerous accounts of my relatives referenced above.

There are two kinds of “child labor”. One involves the kid(s) being involved with the family business and lending a hand as they are able, but also having adequate rest, instruction in various needful things, and so forth.

Then there is child labor that is being locked in a factory for 12-16 hours a day, every day, with never a day off, possibly in unsafe and/or unsanitary conditions with inadequate rest, food, or safeguards.

The first example is probably OK, and might even be necessary for survival. The second is not OK and may lead to disastrous consequences.

As I said it did me no harm. I had my own kids do chores. Of course they were not made to work outside jobs. My Son did have afterschool jobs, he kept all the money. Now, the lil’wrekker was another case, completely. She couldn’t be bribed or implored or begged into working for me, EVER. She was a special kind of spoiled rotten. She was so nice about it. It made you feel like she was doing you a favor by letting you do it for her. Tom Sawyer with blond pigtails and eyelashes. My older 2 are always ragging on me about it. They can’t believe she gets away with it. What can I say? She’s got my number.
All in all, I think kids could do more to contribute to a house and family. You know, aside from being in a sweat shop in a 3rd world country, I mean.

What sort of careers did your relatives go on to have, after they outgrew their school days? Did the kids who helped their dad be a potter go on to make good livings as potters? What about the girls who learned handsewing? Do you think there’s a lot of opportunities for those kids, with their limited educations?

The global campaign against child labour has had some unintended negative consequences, especially for older children, in developing countries. There is a reality that (a) people under 18 often need to work to support themselves and their families and (b) people in these countries often cannot find work with the type of conditions that western middle class NGO employees would like their own kids to do. The global panic about child trafficking has also made it harder for people under 18 to migrate to find work. Since the laws against child labour have generally not been accompanied by changes in economic policy to make this work unnecessary, or by sufficient changes in social policy to give these children reasonable alternatives, they can end up ironically forcing them into the black economy (including child prostitution) where conditions are, needless to say, even worse.

If you want to read more about this, google Neil Howard who’s done a lot of research with child workers in West Africa.

From what I understand, farming is no longer driving the tractor to the back 40 to plow. It is now technologically advanced - in biology, to understand new seeds, in automation, to understand highly automated farm equipment, and in finance, to deal with financing and marketing of the crops, including futures. Not something a full day of chores is going to prepare you for.
Some chores is different, and good for kids.

I bet pottery is no different. In 20 years it is not going to just involve the art of potting, but also how to program a 3-d printer to produce pieces.

It is a lot harder of an argument for poorer nations, but kids learning enough to be able to find better ways of doing whatever they do on the web is going to help them get out of poverty.

When I lived in Newfoundland, I was out driving around the bay with my girl friend and she saw a sign to some outharbour and said can we drive through there, I wanted to see where I used to live. I didn’t know until then that she had been “put to service” when her father died at sea (the largest cause of death), and her mother couldn’t raise her. At eleven, she was placed with a family that needed a housemaid in exchange for food and lodging. She recognized the family at the house, still there some fifteen years later, we stopped, there were hugs and tears all around, with people who had her “in service”, a euphemism for child labor. It did her no harm, then nor later.

Is it? What are you defining as “modern”? You should know Centuries of Childhood is woefully out of date and has been successfully rebutted several times.

What is a modern invention is the extended childhood of the “teenager”, but pre-teen childhood is far from a modern invention.

More the recognition of it. Adolescents were still immature even in societies that failed to recognize the fact, and gave them responsibilities they couldn’t handle.

I recall a comment made here a while back that stuck in my head; that a lot of the worst and dumbest behavior in pre-modern history can be traced back to the fact that so many rulers were teenagers with an army.

I don’t think this is true. Can you give any examples?

It depends on what you mean by child labor. When I hear that term, I think of 7 year olds working 12 hours a day in a sweatshop and I am more than willing to outlaw that. On the other side, when I was 17 years and 8 months old, an over-zealous child protection officer came within a whisker of ruining my life by forbidding me to work in the university laboratory that was paying my way through college. He thought labs were too dangerous. At the last minute he relented. Maybe they would have let me restart 4 months later; I have often wondered

As for kids having chores at home, I am fine with that. I did and my kids did. My grandkids don’t and that doesn’t seem to have damaged them either. As for working on the family farm, I guess I am okay with that provided it leaves time for school and play.