The world’s child labor laws protect children from exploitation, free them from harsh and underpaid daily routines and give them the opportunity to go to school. Generally, western nations consider child labor to be morally wrong and restrict the practice by law. However, some anti-child labor laws fail to protect certain workers, while others may produce unintended consequences. (Ref. 1)
Child Labor and UNICEF
According to UNICEF, there are approximately 158 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 working today, representing one in six of the world’s children. Many of those children work dangerous jobs, including in mines and with hazardous chemicals and machinery. Many work under sweatshop conditions, many more work as domestic servants. As the main world body working against exploitative child labor, UNICEF encourages world governments to adopt legislation that will ensure the protection of children’s rights, including United Nations protections against financial exploitation and the right to an education.
Child Labor Deterrence Act
According to UNICEF, America’s Child Labor Deterrence Act, which prohibits the importation of goods manufactured by child labor, caused 50,000 children to lose their jobs in the Bangladesh garment industry alone. Many of these children, whose wages were depended upnon by their families, were forced to find jobs in non-importing industries that were far more exploitive than their previous jobs in the garment trade. Many turned to stone crushing, street hustling and prostitution to help their families survive. (Ref. 1)
Child Labor Laws in America
In 1900, conservative estimates had at least 18 percent of America’s children aged 10 to 15 working full time. Anti-child labor laws in the early 20th century were either struck down as unconstitutional or prevented by industry groups. Not until the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938, prohibiting child labor in manufacturing and mining, did child labor legislation begin to have an effect. States responded by enacting laws that established mandatory schooling hours for young people, and in 1949, Congress extended child labor prohibition to the transportation, communications, public utilities and commercial agriculture industries, as well. Since then, child labor in America has declined dramatically, and though violations of the laws still occur, the idea that children should not be full-time employees is cemented in the American consciousness.
Current Law and Underage Farm Laborers
According to a Human Rights Watch report, current law does not cover the hundreds of thousands of children who labor in America’s agricultural industry. As a result, these children work longer hours and are exposed to more risks than children who work in other industries. A bill before Congress, The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE) Act, would amend existing law to provide protections for underage agricultural workers that children employed in other industries have. For example, current law allows child agricultural workers 14 years of age and older to work unlimited hours, provided it does not conflict with schooling, but the law prevents workers in other industries from working more than three hours on a school day.