Children at Work: Child Labor Practices in Africa

Article excerpt

GEOGRAPHY, ENVIRONMENT, AND DEMOGRAPHY Anne Kielland and Maurizia Tovo. Children at Work: Child Labor Practices in Africa. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2006. xi + 191 pp. Tables. Figures. Photographs. Endnotes. Bibliography. Index. $49.95. Paper. $22.50. Cloth.

Anne Kielland and Maurizia Tovo have written a very thoughtful and useful book on the causes, patterns, and consequences of, and solutions to, child labor in Africa. Surveying all of sub-Saharan Africa, they point out that, in contrast to other parts of the developing world, child labor in Africa does not always stem from poverty. Other factors fueling child labor include the labor-intensive nature of rural and urban economies, which continue to rely on hand tools rather than capital-intensive technologies; diverse cultural expectations of children's responsibilities to parents and family; socialization, or what is needed to prepare young people for hard work in adult life; and children's own desires for autonomy, material goods, and money for school fees. This latter point is worth emphasizing: many studies of child labor in Africa and elsewhere assume passivity, dependency, and victimhood on the part of young people in the labor force; in fact it is important to examine children's agency and influence in shaping their own childhoods and many aspects of their work situations.

Children at Work examines child labor within the family and household setting, the placement of children with kin and nonkin under fostering and apprenticeship arrangements, the trafficking in children (including trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation), the enslavement of children, child soldiers, and the orphaning of children and child labor use in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. The authors do not assume that all work by children is bad or harmful, but provide a list of thirty-five things that can make working harmful to children. These include work that is too heavy or could lead to injury, work that exposes children to harmful chemicals or immoral behavior, employers who not only exploit children economically but also abuse them physically and psychologically, and recruitment or conditions of work that are coercive. …