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The Issue of Child Labor – An Ethical Approach

Public Recognition of the Problem

Nowadays, irrespective the vibrant and unprecedented activation of the multiple human rights groups and associations, headed by the United Nations organization, no viable results has been achieved insofar. Massive child labor remains present in sub-Saharan Africa, remote areas of Mongolia, China, and Pakistan (Schmitz, Traver & Larson, 2007). Being recognized as the prophet of democracy and the country of equal rights opportunities, the United States of America annually identifies and ceases the activity of the children sweatshops within its sovereign territories (Parker & Harkin, 2007). 

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Recent statistics published by the various international research agencies precisely indicates that 24% of the entire workforce in Asia is children below 18 years of age. In Latin America this figure is 17%, while in sub-Saharan Africa more than half of the entire national workforce is children (Mniki & Rosa, 2007). Children are engaged in the different fields of economy, even if in the most perilous ones including mining, minerals excavation, construction and agriculture (Kumar, 1991).

Framework of Child Labor 

The laws are considered one of the most changeable issues nowadays (Rao & Rao, 1998). Throughout the entire history of the humankind legal frameworks governing the activities of different civilizations have been many times amended and changed. However, the law of economics is one of the most stable phenomena under the blue sky. Whatever political or military actions have been initiated by the global powers, they were dictated by the interests of the economy and by the financial greed of the business (Srivastava, 2011).

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Research Methodology and Paper Objective 

This paper operates a combined methodological approach, integrating the examination of the popular literature composed by the scholars upon the subject and the available statistical findings. This method is recognized as one of the most viable and proven in terms of its academic legitimacy. Leveraging the existing factual data, the conceptual framework and indelible academic hypothesis are hereby confirmed or rejected.  In this paper it is endeavored to confirm the phenomenon of child labor is undeniably negative in its essence and should be eradicated, since it is detrimental socially and economically (Kumar, 1991). Moreover, recently expressed statements that ethical constraints are considerably more effective than the legal instruments are also argued here (Stearman, 2004). 

Literature Review 

Contemporary literature aggregated upon the subject clearly evidences that the research focus of the most acknowledged anti-child labor activists is made on the legal regulation of the problem and its efficacy, the role of child labor in the local economies and the ascertainment of the ethics and child labor ratios. 

Legal Regulation of the Problem

Legally, the problem is regulated on the international and local levels (Schmitz et al, 2004). Internationally, the biggest commitment has been made by the synergy of the International Labor Organization and UNICEF, a regulatory and deliberative council established under the auspices of the United Nations Organization. The most operable instruments developed and enforced by these agencies are the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, 1999, the Minimum Age Convention 1973 and the Forced Labor Convention, 1930. The provisions of these documents can be either directly enforced by the children advocates, or their analogues encapsulated into the domestic legislation of the countries in where the abuses take place can be raised. It should be highlighted that the under the UNO Charter the available legal mechanisms can be more effective than the ones available in the UNO documents, but not less. In theory, these anti-child exploitation laws have been adopted by the majority of the countries (Ahmed, 1999). In practice however, they are rarely observed, since the norms of sanctions and mechanisms of direct enforcement have not been elaborated sufficiently. 

Ethical Issues in Child Labor 

Although the most effective means of public influence are known to be legal and the derivative methods of military enforcement, the role of ethics shall not be underestimated, since it serves as a moral deterrent for the company owners, who exploit child labor. The scholars draw multiple parallels between child labor and slavery, and nowadays it becomes evident that no distinctive different is made (Parker & Harkin, 2007). While labor is regulated, slavery is not. Hence, child labor may be claimed ethical, while child slavery, as well as any other forms of slavery is never.  Hedonistic and consequentialism ethical schools predicate complete social reproof of slavery, whatever forms it may take. 

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Child Labor and Local Economies 

The casualty list of business starts from horrific environmental degradation and encompasses multiple human rights abuses, the Great Depression suicides, unbearable loans given by the federal government to the developing nations, which would never be able to repay them and are doomed to be nothing, but the minions of capitalism.

However, the bullet of capitalism successfully hit the most vulnerable category of people – the children (Srivastava, 2011). Traditionally, working was a prerogative and obligation of the able-bodied, physically fit layers of the society. 

However, for some developing economies children remain key figures in the countries development, since the “adult” workforce occurs to be insufficient to address the needs of a particular country (Rao & Rao, 1998). This issue is further addressed in the section analyzing the strategies that could be taken to annihilate child poverty. 

Impact of Child Labor 

A spectrum of negative repercussions inflicted by child labor can be classified into the economic and social areas. Socially, the family connections are deranged, especially in the worst forms of child labor exploitation (Mniki & Rosa, 2007), as it happens in Sub-Saharan Africa, when children are virtually purchased as a commodity or kidnapped and then moved to other countries for their subsequent use. Most heinously, the children are deprived from contacting with their families as well their educational options become totally annihilated. 

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Economically, hidden potential of these children is never discovered (Rao & Rao, 1998). Possibly, one of a children toiling on cocoa plantations is a brilliant computer architect or outstanding athlete, whose contribution to the community can hypothetically become enormous, increasing their value as an industrial unit and becoming more profitable for company owners and their own well-being. Their confinement to crude manual labor results in total annihilation of this option (Stearman, 2004). 

Remedies to Remove the Problem 

Legal Attack 

The most basic postulates of contemporary deontological studies set forth that any type of behavior that contravenes the basic commonly accepted written principles should be classified as ethically inconsistent. Child labor is prohibited by the international and by the domestic law, not to mention the instruments of corporate internal governance. The atrocities and horrific essence of the child labor has been recognized by the international human rights scholars, by the medical communities and other influential international organizations. Multiple reports issued by these institutions vigorously ostracize the phenomenon of child labor exploitation.  Most importantly, the United Nations Organization documents, including the legal framework elaborated by the UNICEF explicitly prohibits any types of child labor that can impede the educational process or mental/physical development process. The most notable legal conventions in this regard are the Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, 1930, Minimum Age Convention, 1973 and Forced Labor Convention, 1930 developed and enforced by the International Labor Organization Respectively


Anti-poverty Campaigns 

 Poverty is considered as one of the most conducive element that conditions the existence of child labor phenomenon. The studies demonstrate that in the majority of the cases (except for the kidnapping practice) the children engage into laboring voluntarily or are forced to do so by their families (Srivastava, 2011). Maternal instincts are inherent to African mothers equally well as to the European ones, however financial duress often urge them to sell their beloved kids. Therefore, the primary focus of the international cooperation should be placed on the poverty curbing. There is no evidence of children sale transactions happening in the countries with relatively safe financial environments. 

Multifarious Ethical Approach 

The question should not be positioned before the legal agencies, but before the ethical rule makers. In other words, the mankind should understand whether it is ethically permissible to use child labor (Goodman, 2009). The core issue here is to determine what is more important, the economic benefits produced by the undeveloped, uneducated human beings or their development and standing as the members of the international community.

Schools of Hedonism and Epicureanism are one of the most popular nowadays. They have been successfully developed by the Ancient Greece philosophers and gained widespread recognition. Despite the fact that natural theories on physics, chemistry or astronomy have fallen into oblivion, their ethical postulates are still in invincible, although and significantly supplemented and elaborated by the contemporary community of ethical thinkers.

The school of Hedonism accentuates that the pleasure is the objective and incentive of the entire activities ever perpetrated by the humankind (Goodman, 2009). Specifically, whatever actions are taken, they are destined to bring a sort of benefit, pleasure or satisfaction to the one who is taking them. This statement is sometimes considered as a T-junction, since the first group of philosophers argues that these actions must be of any nature, including immoral, violent and illegal activity, while the second group vehemently obligates the idea that the tenets of hedonism are observed as long as specific activities do not encroach upon the rights and privileges of the others. With the development of the human civilization second approach received more solid public and academic support.

Examining the phenomena of child labor it becomes evident that the tiny minority of the population really benefits. To be more exact, children working in private sector, being employed by the foreign companies and being absolutely unprotected by their local authorities are not benefited at all Having the choice to employ a child or an able-bodied citizen of a particular country, an employee usually choices the child, because lower wages can be paid and employment law provisions can be absolutely neglected. Very often, the children are economically enforced to seek employment in order to provide themselves and their families with all necessities. In African countries popular practice of labor kidnapping has become widespread, for instance children are bought or stolen from Somali, transferred to Côte d’Ivoire and then exploited on the cocoa plantations.

From the ethical positions of Hedonism and Epicureanism, the benefit is received by the employee, who minimizes the expenditures incurred by the business, increases its liquidity and profitability. Virtually, this purports bigger revenues accrued by the company and shared by the partners. Hereby, on the one hand we have upscale mansions and millions and banking accounts of the top companies executives.

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On the other hand, we have the children deprived from their childhood and normal physical and mental developments. The children have no time to play and to develop communicative skills. They had no time to attend schools, hereby making primary, secondary graduate and postgraduate educations virtually impossible for them.  Having grown up, they had no other choice than to get employed as manual workers and to continue living under severe economic hardships.

Generally, it becomes obvious that under the right wing of the Hedonism theoretical framework the practice of child labor should be forbidden because of its failure to meet the existing ethical standards. The minority which was supported under the slavery social order and which is vigorously criticized nowadays may assume that the practice of child labor is ethical. This statement however lacks sufficient probative evidence, since fortunately there are no reputable representatives of classical left wing hedonism nowadays.

The school of consequentialism purports that a particular behavior should be considered ethical when the ultimate result thereof is positive. Provided that this condition is met, and action even if it contradicts the law can be and should be considered ethical. This doctrine was vigorously utilized by the revolutionaries to explain that ethics is always above the law and therefore their activity is fully consistent with the most fundamental ethical commandments.

As far as child labor is concerned, the far-reaching results can be abominable. Basically, working full-time under the precarious economic conditions, the children do not have reasonable opportunities to obtain free primary education, as dictated by the multiple resolutions of the United Nations organization. Therefore, their way to secondary and graduate education is automatically blocked. Overcoming these educational obstacles is impossible for them. Possibly,  the new Nobel Prize winner or the inventor of the cure against cancer is nowadays toiling somewhere in Vietnam, sub-Saharan Africa or Mongolia with no viable means to cultivate and develop his talent. It has been many times recognized that contemporary educational system is far from being impeachable. Moreover, it is academically suggested to test the educational establishment applicants and to identify their innate inclinations and interests. Having identified these predispositions towards some area of science, feather choice should be made. The children, engaged in mining or agriculture, are by default deprived of these opportunities in beforehand. 

Secondly, if these children are provided with sufficient nutrition, primary and subsequent types of education, it is inevitable that they will contribute to the growth and solidification of the international economy. Moreover, this type of contribution will be considerably more profitable and rewarding then their manual exploitation. The business owners must understand that in future they can hire accomplished professionals which could bring them more money. To illustrate, India is considered as number one international producer of software. Child labor abuses are ubiquitous for this country, while the lack of qualified programmers is reported to be present. It has been calculated that more than 5 million web designers, software developers, quality assurance professionals and other IT people are needed worldwide. The companies can unite and invest in the Indian computer education, and stop exploiting the young Indian citizens on textile factories. In this case, the return on investment will be more rewarding than the presently obtained one.

Therefore, under the consequential positions the phenomenon of child labor is not ethically compliant. 


Overall, the rights of the children are abused, especially among the developing nations. Whatever attempts are taken by the acknowledged international institutions led by the UNICEF and by the International Labor Organization no viable results have been achieved yet.  Legally, their recommendations are routinely and impudently violated by the rapacious business communities. 

The analysis of the ethical paradigm evinces that the companies’ owners disrespect the ethical framework as well. Traditional school of Hedonism tenets are either wrongfully interpreted (or draconian left-wing school pillars are eulogized) or disregarded altogether. Contemporary schools of consequentialism and deontology are of no avail. Whereas theoretically their postulates fully prohibit the use of child labor, practically money is prioritized over the ethical considerations. 

Having evenhandedly analyzed the situation, the one shall conclude that the problem with child labor can’t be resolved via ethical means. The only viable solution that remains available is the development of the effective law enforcement mechanisms. The conventions and treaties developed by the UNICEG and ILO are legally perfect. The final step to defend the institutes of childhood and free education is to arm these organizations with functional instruments. Moreover, unless general poverty problems are not successfully campaigned in full, the efficacy of ethical or legal instruments remains precarious.  



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