Child labor in developing countries is not only found in sweatshops, but also in the household, in family businesses, and on the farm. These forms of 'hidden' child labor have now been systematically documented by researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen. They use data for sixteen African and Asian countries to show how many children are involved, how many hours they work and by which factors children's engagement in hidden child labor is affected; all of which are important in combating this phenomenon.
An article detailing their findings appeared online Sept. 15 in the journal World Development.
The International Labor Organization defines child labor as work that is detrimental to the health or development of the child. A child that spends less or no time on school work because it has to help in the household or family business is deemed to be carrying out child labor. According to the researchers from Nijmegen, hidden child labor of this kind is very widespread. They analyzed data obtained from 178,000 children and found that in the week before the interviews, 80 percent of them had worked at home. In that week, 30 percent of the African children and 11 percent of the Asian children had spent more than 15 hours working at home. Girls work more in hidden child labor than boys. This is because they do more household chores; an average of three hours a week more. Boys tend to work more in the family business than girls, but this difference is only one hour.
Parental education: striking effect
Anyone intending to tackle the problem of child labor must first understand why it occurs. Of the various factors involved, household characteristics are the most important. Poverty plays a large role, as does the education of the parents. If the mother is well-educated, the children will have to work less. However, the effect of the father's education is at first sight counterintuitive: children of well-educated fathers work more in the household and, in Africa, more in the family business too. This is probably because these fathers tend to work outside the home more, and more responsibility is passed on to the children.
The amount of work children are expected to undertake depends on how much there is to do: this is clear from the effects of the availability of electricity, tap water, land and livestock. Where there is land and livestock, children work more. If there is electricity, and/or tap water, they work less. Fetching water is a time-consuming business which is often left to children. The availability of electricity means that people can use a refrigerator and spend less time shopping, and manual labor (often carried out by children) can be replaced by machines. Furthermore, children in rural areas and districts with a poor educational infrastructure also tend to work more. If parents know that teaching is of low quality or if there are no schools within a reasonable distance from the home, they may prefer to let their children help at home.
The article comprises a number of recommendations for local policy-makers who want to reduce the incidence of child labor. The availability of good educational facilities, electricity and tap water reduce hidden child labor; it is therefore important to invest in these utilities. It also appears that children of well-educated mothers work less, making policy aimed at mothers important. Finally, children from large families tend to work more hours. Having many children could be a conscious choice, with children being seen as 'cheap labor'. But if it is caused by ignorance about family-planning or a shortage of contraceptives, targeted family-planning campaigns may lead to improvement.
- Ellen Webbink, Jeroen Smits, Eelke de Jong. Hidden Child Labor: Determinants of Housework and Family Business Work of Children in 16 Developing Countries. World Development, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2011.07.005
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