There is nothing wrong with child labor per se. Think about it: why would there be? The answers people usually think of investments that are exclusive to what people in the developed countries can afford, for example prolonged studies to build up expertise. Something a starving nation can ill afford.
KISS: Keep It Situational, Stupid
The question is about what’s better for your family in different situations. Most Western people take an obnoxious stance that we know what is better for all family everywhere around the world regardless of the fact that our actions cause them to starve to death. No parent wants anything but the best for their children, but the egoistic Westerners believe that they’re somehow standing on a higher moral ground and they need to force empathy down the throats of the parents in developed countries.
In a certain situation, it indeed is better for your child to not to work before a higher age — in most all situations when affordable. The campaigns in the West to stop child labor in developing economies are, however, targeted against the poorest of people who are faced with a choice to either starve or start working around the age of 10. They’re not slaves, forced to work in conditions we find unacceptable for ourselves because we have so many better options. Instead they are exercising their ability to choose the best from all available options available to them.
Acts towards putting an end to ‘sweatshops’ are acts towards worsening the economic situation of the people who currently work at the ‘sweatshops’. That can be literally a mortal blow for some of the kids while also harming the whole of their society as a whole. ‘Sweatshops’ are better than what was the best available thing in developed countries 100 years ago. They’re a step on the economic ladder towards a higher standard of living, away from the verge of starvation. Anyone who is unconditionally against child labor is thus an oppressor, but hopefully only out of lack of information.
It’s mystifying that the above and several other points that Tim Harford illustrated so masterfully in his The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life aren’t taught in elementary school to everyone in the developed countries.
The parents know what’s best for their children better than most of us pale-skinned foreigners do.
A call to action
If you can’t make the world a better place by boycotting companies employing people in poor working conditions, there must be something you can do instead. Because boycotting child labor and sweatshops is bad, one of the best things to do is to put an end to the boycotts. The boycotts are born out of misinformation or lack of information, and the best cure to that is information.
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