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The Dilemma of Child Labor Within Low-income Countries - It’s Not That Simple

How do we address the existence of child labor among global enterprises when removal of these income opportunities for communities in under-resourced regions can perpetuate cycles of deeper poverty and exploitation?

I want to introduce you to a child named Alejandra from El Salvador. At 12 years, she’s awakened by her father at 4 A.M. to collect molluscs in swamps up to 14 hours a day instead of attending school. The extreme working conditions leave Alejandra in a vulnerable position as the swamp is full of mosquitoes, and oftentimes she gets cuts. Therefore, a significant amount of the money she makes goes towards cigars and pills because the smoke repels mosquitoes and pills keep her awake to work. On a good day, she can earn $1.40. With seven other younger siblings, she cannot afford to go to school.

There are several different opinions of child labor worldwide. Should that be the case?

Many advanced countries view child labor as a serious human rights issue and, in the United States, children are protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits employment that can pose a threat to child safety. However, in other countries, it can be the complete opposite. Child labor among developing countries is closely linked with the culture and economy. Agriculture and domestic work are the two most common forms of child labor. It is categorized by children working at home and children working away from home. At home, child labor typically involves boys doing farm work while girls stay at home and perform domestic duties. The demand to meet these responsibilities becomes a major reason why children dropout from schools. Part of the reason why in rural, low-income regions there are families with several children is because of the overwhelming amount of responsibilities that are needed to maintain livelihood and children are seen as a form of social capital. Child labor addresses that responsibility. Children who work away from home may work in mines as domestic servants for other households, or work as street vendors. Leaving home, however, makes children extremely vulnerable to abuse and trafficking.

Circling back to the question above, many companies such as Nestle, H&M, Apple, and Microsoft rely on child labor for their products and they have, rightfully so, been criticized. They also display reports on their promises to eradicate child labor from their industries, but it is still a problem. So in the United States, are we really practicing what we preach about child labor or do we happen to be selective about whose children can engage in it?

Before we condemn child labor for its violation of human rights, we need to understand the troubling circumstances and the surrounding institutions that prevent the opportunity for a child to recieve an education. With that, I do not support it, but I acknowledge the challenges families face when making the tough decision to remove children from school to support their family. Therefore, we need to focus on removing the barriers to these decisions rather than focus on stopping the outcome. I implore us, as individuals who can bring awareness in our own communities, when we see developmental issues within different contexts, to take the time to fully learn about its causes and implications because perspective matters.


Andvig, Jens; Canagarajah, Sudharshan; Kielland, Anne. “Child Labor in Africa : Issues and

Challenges. Africa Region Findings & Good Practice”; No. 194. World Bank, 2001, Washington, DC.

International Labour Office, et al. Child Labour Stories. International Labour Office, 2015,

Phillpott, Siôn. “10 Companies That Still Use Child Labour.” CareerAddict, 27

Feb. 2019,

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