What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: Osvaldo_Zoom
Jeff Lindsay wrote a post this morning highlighting the similarities many see between child labor and slavery. Indeed, most of us have been raised in an environment that condemns such an “atrocity”, which allegedly capitalizes upon the young and naïve, often compensates them very little, and sidetracks them from their studies and so-called “normal social development”.
I believe, however, that one must question conventional wisdom in this case (as in all others) and scrutinize the underlying principles. I came across one article that does just that:
Might these folks have something to offer the workplace? And might the young benefit from a bit of early work experience, too? Perhaps — but we’ll never know, thanks to antiquated federal, state, and local laws that make it a crime to hire a kid.
Pop culture accepts these laws as a normal part of national life, a means to forestall a Dickensian nightmare of sweat shops and the capitalist exploitation of children. It’s time we rid ourselves of images of children tied to rug looms in the developing world. The kids I’m talking about are one of the most courted of all consumer sectors. Society wants them to consume, but law forbids them to produce.
As the author of this article goes on to discuss, the prevention of child labor removes from the matrix of exchange the opportunity for their compensation of services. It is proposed, with such legislation, that the parents produce enough to satisfy the consumption demands of them and their children.
The problem with such a segregated work situation—preventing children from working until their teenage and adult years—is that there is no transition provided, nor an opportunity afforded to get ahead and learn the principles of labor, exchange, and business at an earlier age than allowed. Masses of college graduates are found unfit for the workplace, highly unprepared for a full day’s job without having had previous experiential development.
Opponents of child labor might skip over the minimum-wage children of our society and focus on those of developing nations, as Jeff’s blog post mentions. Drawing a comparison between a domestic rate of $7 per hour and a foreign one of 20 cents per hour conjures up images of sweatshops, horrible conditions, and meager pay for an impoverished subsistence.
It is important to note, however, that while such wages provided for children in foreign labor are far lower than they are domestically, the same holds true for the adult population as well. For example, the average compensation for a day laborer in Zambia equates to two U.S. dollars. A child earning slightly less is understandable in an economy that offers such low wages to begin with.
When I was a teenager, I worked in a variety of jobs that paid far, far less than what I currently earn. This is natural and proper—a worker with less skill, endurance, and ability is in less of a demand, and therefore is offered less for his services. As such, children demand a lower wage than their working adult counterparts.
A distinction must be made here between voluntary child labor and forced child labor. Under no circumstances should a child be forced into a labor camp, nor offered a government-fixed wage at a substandard rate, nor be made subject to laws that encourage or allow such circumstances. Voluntary child labor, however, is natural, and is the choice of the individual. Many children, due to war, disease, and disability, are the heads of their respective households. They therefore find it necessary to abandon their education—hopefully temporarily—and earn a living.
This is not to say that child labor is an ideal situation. In our culture, we clearly understand the benefit of an early and continuing education. Such a life path is to be encouraged, and privately supported through donors and activists who take it upon themselves to provide similar opportunities for those in want. But while we are aware of the ideal, life circumstances nevertheless demand, at times, that a child labor for his/her sustenance.
We may be appalled at the low wages, or disgusted with the conditions, but so long as the enterprise (being morally sound) is a voluntary one, we cannot condemn it. That individual weighed his/her options and made a choice, based upon their values and desires. Should we disagree, we have the opportunity to effect change through private aid and assistance. Anything short of that, and especially government intervention to restrict this avenue for renumeration, does more harm to the child than good.