Child Labor, Its Causes, Effects, Counterpolicies


In the past decades, research on child labor has been conducted, and appropriate methods have been developed to combat it (Cunningham, 2006). A suggestive list of historical documents on childhood and child labor captures thousands of articles, books, essays, government reports, newspaper commentaries, and even humanitarian bodies that define and decry advocating against the act (Stein, 1977). The historical documents captured backdate to the 18th century with a focus on human rights, human trafficking, and street children. The cited works give a broader view of causes and effects of child labor, economic and socio-cultural perspectives, and efforts put to stop child labor.


A cross-sectional study was conducted to determine the perceptions of working children on child labor (Zaporozhets, 1965). Out of 225 children who participated in the study, 93 were male and 132 female. Some did not appreciate child work while others perceived it as part of the training, a source of income, and a way of assisting parents. The majority of the child workers considered child labor as deprivation (Cahn, & William, 1972).

This is a case study of Nigeria. The findings in this study cut across the board giving a general view of child labor perceptions. Western society made an attempt to eliminate child labor in the twentieth century, with the intention of it spreading to the rest of the world. This is captured in the establishment of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Child labor can be defined as depriving a child of his or her childhood, dignity, and potential through work that causes harm to both the mental and physical development (Archard, 2004). This practice involves enslaving children by separating them from their family members to work in hazardous environments. Such children are expected to fend for themselves at a very tender age. Different approaches and understanding of child labor across the board are dependent on the child’s age, work performed, working hours, working conditions, and objectives. Child labor practices are captured in the developing countries where children were involved in trade, as well as non-trade sectors (Sawyer, 1986). Drug trafficking and industrial work were delegated to children who were sometimes not paid their dues (Gorky, 1961).

Theoretical perspectives and reviews on causes of child labor and its consequences highlight on poverty as the major cause of such practices (Levene, 2012). Decision making by household influences child labor. In some households, the children lack bargaining power and are forced into working while in some the children have value in their families. Parents who make decisions do so to serve their interests without considering the impact such decisions will have on their young ones.

In industrial societies, children were often taken to work in farms and factories. Families considered their wages as more important than schooling. These children would work as hard as adults in poor working conditions and for long hours. In the early days, there were no stipulated laws that protected children.

A poverty hypothesis is a theoretical approach used to expound on child labor. Even though parental self-interest played a significant role in influencing such practices, poverty is the cause (Levene, 2012). A report on Martha Appleton’s accident in the year 1859 highlights how important child labor exploitation was for Britain’s economy (Humphries, 2011). Statistics show that 49% of Britain’s workforce by 1821 was below 20 years of age.

There were cases of five and six years old occupied in agriculture. These children worked far away from home. In the same sequence, the plight of climbing boys illuminates child labor (Hindell, 1968). Most of these children ended up contracting diseases and were prone to accidents.

Efforts have since been made to combat child labor with new legislative attempts (Angevine, 1979). The first effort began in the18th century in England where children were exploited to work in the mine and toil in the textile industries (Holland, 1970). They enforced laws restricted child employment. The legislation, therefore, controlled entry age and working hours. Safe working conditions were also put in place with schooling as a priority. The neoclassical models have been employed to support the public policies that focus on compulsory schooling, bonded child labor ban, and minimum working age (James, & James, 2004).

According to the International Labour Organization, the established age was 15 years. This was the estimated age of school completion. Workers under the age of 18 were not to be engaged in dangerous working conditions (McMillan, 1907). The countries who had adopted ILO age convention regulated working hours with exceptions for children aged 12 or 13 who would be given lighter work (Trattner, 1970). The nature of work was determined by national laws.

Studies show that parental education has a major impact on reducing child labor incidences (Ralley, 2007). Most educated parents do not allow their children to work for wages and encourage schooling instead. These parents are in most cases able to afford the education expenses.


The mechanism of educating a generation of parents draws attention to the increased income and human capital (McCulloch, 2004). However, cross country and cross-culture have different perspectives on household income. To some families, child labor decisions are independent of the rise in income. There are external factors that may influence the decision. For instance, some parents may forgo educating their children due to poor quality schools.

In some communities, gender role is the determinant of child labor. Research shows that the female gender is the most affected in such communities that segregate them to work as the male and to go to school. This is not experienced in developed countries (Whett, & Buckingham, 2006). Child labor is, therefore, a broad topic that can be tackled from an interdisciplinary angle (Prout, 2005).


Angevine, E 1979, History of the National Consumers League. National Consumers League, Washington, DC.

Archard, D 2004, Children rights and childhood, Routledge, London.

Cahn, R and Cahn, W 1972, No Time for School, No Time for Play: The Story of Child Labor in America, Julian Messner, New York, NY.

Cunningham, H 2006, The invention of childhood, BBC Books, London.

Gorky, M 1961, Childhood, Oxford University Press, London.

Hindell, K 1968. Industrial Relations in the British Printing Industry. Labour History, vol. 15, p. 78.

Holland, R 1970, Mill Child, Macmillan Company, New York, NY.

Humphries, J 2011. Childhood and child labor in the British Industrial Revolution, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

James, A and James, AL 2004, Constructing childhood theory, policy and social practice, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingslake.

Levene, A 2012, The childhood of the poor, welfare in eighteenth century, Palgrave Macmillan, London.

McCulloch, G 2004, Documentary Research in Education, History and the Social Sciences, Routledge former, London.

McMillan, M 1907, Labor and childhood, S. Sonnenschein, London.

Prout, A 2005, The Future of childhood; towards the interdisciplinary study of children, Routledge former, London.

Ralley, I 2007, Doing conversation, Discourse and Document Analysis, Sage, London.

Sawyer, R 1986, Children Enslaved, Routledge, New York, NY.

Stein, L 1977, Out of the Sweatshop: The Struggle for Industrial Democracy, Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co, New York, NY.

Trattner, WI 1970, Crusade for the Children: A History of the National Child Labor Committee and Child Labor Reform in America, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, IL.

Whett, R and Buckingham, D 2006, Digital generations: Children, Young people, and new media, Lawrence Erlbaum, London.

Zaporozhets, AV 1965, The Development of Perception in the Preschool Child, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 82-101.