Child Labor: Increased or Reduced?
Child labor is a continuing scourge in poor countries, and has sadly not disappeared from the rich countries altogether (even a country as rich as the United States still has children at work, not just selling lemonade and cookies on the roadside or hosing down your car for a buck, but in the poor counties in the South where migrant labor works under exploitative conditions). The International Labor Organization (ILO), the international agency charged with overseeing the world's labor issues, has estimated that 100 million to 200 million children under fifteen are at work. Of these, ILO estimates that almost 95 percent are in poor countries, and half of these are in Asia. An estimated 100 million of these children often do not go to primary school. 1
The problem has been long-standing and is historically inherited. It is extremely improbable, therefore, that it has much to do with today's— or even yesterday's, rather than yesteryear's—globalization. Its principal causes are altogether different and lie rooted in poverty instead. Yet some anti-globalization and anti-child-labor activists tend to merge into a symbiotic relationship. Globalization is regarded by them, if not as a cause of child labor in the workforce, at least as a phenomenon that increases the incentive to use it and hence as a cause of its perpetuation and even enlargement. Yet there is little evidence of this perverse and malevolent relationship. The truth is that globalization—wherever it translates into greater general prosperity and reduced poverty—only accelerates the reduction of child labor and enhances primary school enrollment and hence literacy. And as I argued from my analysis of the East Asian miracle, literacy in turn enables rapid growth. So we have here a virtuous circle.