The U.S. and Child Labor
Defining child labor
Not all child labor, of course, is as repugnant as the most hazardous
and exploitative forms. Even the most ardent anti-child labor advocates
recognize that appropriate work tasks may teach children skills and responsibility,
bind families together and contribute to family incomes. In assessing the
scope of child labor and shaping solutions, it is critical to define child
labor, and to distinguish exploitative child labor from appropriate forms.
UNICEF has developed a set of rough criteria to determine if child labor
is exploitative. It designates child labor as inappropriate if it involves:
full-time work at too early an age, too many hours spent working, work that
exerts undue physical, social or psychological stress, work and life on
the streets in bad conditions, inadequate pay, too much responsibility,
work that hampers access to education, work that undermines children's dignity
and self-esteem, such as slavery or bonded labor and sexual exploitation,
work that is detrimental to full social and psychological development.
The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child - signed by every
country except the Cook Islands, Oman, Somalia, Switzerland, the United
Arab Emirates and the United States - obligates governments to protect
children "from economic exploitation and from performing any work that
is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or
to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral
or social development."
Nearly 50 countries have ratified ILO Convention 138 on minimum working
ages. Convention 138 establishes more stringent guidelines than the Convention
on the Rights of the Child. It sets 15 as the minimum acceptable working
age for industrialized countries, and 14 for developing nations. It permits
children to perform light work-an undefined term-at age 13 in industrialized
countries and 12 in poorer nations. The convention prohibits work likely
to jeopardize health, safety or morals by children under 18.