Thursday, August 13, 2009

One more argument against banning child labor

Everybody agrees that child labor is a problem, including the working child's parents. Some years ago, various groups, including the International Labour Organization, called for a ban on child labor. Yet it appears resistance to a ban is mounting, none the least due to pressure from economists who have argued that child labor is not a choice. Indeed, poverty often forces parents to send their kids to work, consciously neglecting the future returns of schooling for immediate survival. Others have argued that without a proper infrastructure in place, kids would not go to school anyway. Finally product boycotts against products thought to be the results of child labor are now thought to be counterproductive as they impoverish even further the targeted populations.

Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti add further arguments against bans and boycotts by considering their political economy aspect. A boycott or a ban from outside directly impacts only the export sector. Children are thus pushed to the non-traded sector, typically local agriculture where children engage in physically less demanding work than adults. Thus specialization occurs and children do not compete with adults. There is no local support for a child labor ban.

If there is no outside intervention, then children stay in the export sector and are in competition with the local unskilled adults. Those will now want to support a local ban of child labor so as to get rid of this competition for jobs. Thus, paradoxically, an attitude of laissez-faire in the rest of the world would lead to a child labor ban. Intervening would prevent the ban from happening.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The title ("One more argument against child labor") is misleading. Doepke and Zilibotti do not make an argument "against" banning child labour. Their paper argues that international boycott and trade sanctions may not be an effective strategy to achieve the elimination of child labor. This is explained somewhere in the text, but the title invites some confusion. So does the statement "Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti add further arguments against bans...". In fact, the focus of the paper is on how a ban can be effectively achieved and stably maintained.