Education as a Facilitator to Overcoming Child Labor
There still exist problems such as child labor in the world. Whereas some children decide to be workers like adults for various reasons, such as assisting their parents to reduce financial hardships, others are forced to engage in work. Not only is this type of labor criminal, but it also has the potential of damaging the education, physiological, and psychological development of a child. The main reasons for child labor in the world are poverty, gender-based discrimination, and lack of knowledge. Children who are engaged in work are usually exposed to various forms of environmental hazards such as exposure to pesticides and abusive employers. Coupling this problem is the exhaustion induced by physical labor that makes them more stressful and likely to get sick. Since education reduces the amount of free time available for children to engage in work, it is an effective means of eliminating child labor.
Although education is a fundamental right for all children around the world, there is no proper training for about two billion learners. The Global Fund for Children notes that one in five children is not enrolled in school- the majority of whom are poor and are in developing countries (Suarez-Orozco, 2007). Not only is the lack of proper education a concern for the children’s development, but it also affects the progress of entire nations. In countries where children are not educated, there is a significant stagnation in the growth in business opportunities, the development of social structures, and the improvement in governance.
The main concern on child labor emanates from the common belief that child labor exposes children to hazardous environments, which have the potential of subjecting them to illnesses or injuries. Hazardous work environments occur in different forms, such as the apparent risks in dangerous jobs like those in the construction and mining sector due to the use of hazardous equipment, risks of falling objects, and exposure to high temperatures. Other dangers such as the exposure to chemicals, pesticides, and lifting of heavy objects may present less immediate risks to a person but have serious long-term consequences in their health (O’Donnell, van Doorslaer, and Rosati, 2002). Besides the physical damage that child labor can cause to an individual, it can also affect their psychological health development because of exposing them to abusive employers (O’Donnell et al., 2002).
A major risk factor with regards to child labor is that it is mainly concentrated in dangerous industries. Globally, the agriculture sector is the leading employer of children. According to O’Donnell et al. (2002), seventy percent of child laborers are employed in the agriculture industry. Other child laborers work in dangerous industries such as manufacturing, transport, construction and mining, and wholesale/ retail trade. Coupling this problem is the increased rate of mortality among child laborers that are in these industries, especially in transport and in construction and mining, which are the most dangerous.
The informal, small-scale, and illegal setting in which most child laborers work is often difficult to regulate. O’Donnell et al. (2002) observe that over seventy percent of all child workers operate within a family unit. When compared to other forms of child labor, children working within a family setting have a higher likelihood of suffering from health-related problems. Children working in informal sectors are usually not provided with the necessary health and safety gears. Even where these clothes and equipment are available, they are usually inappropriate since they are designed for adults. Furthermore, the permissible exposure limits are always set for adults and are therefore ineffective in protecting children.
Another problem with child labor is that the physiological and psychological immaturity of children makes them more vulnerable than adults to various health risks. For example, children are more prone to injuries and more sensitive to heat, noise, and radiation than adults (O’Donnell et al., 2012). Studies comparing the health status of children who are engaged in work versus those that have enrolled in school in Ghana and India have shown that child labor is harmful to their development. In Ghana, for example, children who are engaged in work were found to have higher morbidity than schooling ones due to the health hazards in the fishing industry. A study in rural India also established that there were growth deficits in working boys when compared to those in school (O’Donnell et al., 2002). In both studies, the researchers concluded that child labor has the potential of inhibiting a child’s physical growth.
The lack of proper education means that another generation of illiterate children will enter the cycle of poverty. In countries where child labor is prominent, the lack of appropriate infrastructure and funding of the education sector plays a significant role in making most poor children not to enroll in schools. Even in cases where education is free, fixed private costs of schooling make children from needy families to have less access to education when compared to the rich (Sarkar & Sarkar, 2015). Typically, education, even when free, imposes significant fixed costs on items such as books, uniform, lunch, transport, and meals to families. Therefore, there is a link between poverty and child labor, and it is when households can pay the fixed schooling costs that they educate their children (Menon & Rodgers, 2017). The ILO (2018) notes that a multifaceted approach combining economic growth, respect for labor standards, a better understanding of children’s needs, and universal education and social protection can significantly reduce child labor.
According to the International Labor Organization [ILO] (2018), basic literacy and numerical skills earned through non-formal education do not guarantee that children will not be permanently withdrawn from work. As a result, it is essential to mainstream children into formal education systems. Additionally, investments in basic education only reach a few privileged individuals, whereas it should mainly focus on the children at risk (ILO, 2018). Finally, social exclusion mechanisms play a major role in pushing children out of school and making them engage in work.
Due to the challenges brought by the lack of access to education, the provision of a public education system can ensure that most vulnerable children in the society get the opportunity for formal schooling and do not engage in work. The ILO (2018) suggests that governments should establish more schools in regions that are underserved. There should also be more recruitment and training of teachers so that they can empathize with children that have never received a formal education. In areas where geographical conditions pose obstacles, or the community lifestyles require them to move constantly, there should be the development of alternative approaches to learning (ILO, 2018). Among pastoralists, for example, there can be the establishment of mobile schools that relocate with families or boarding schools where children can stay when their families migrate. ILO (2018) also recommends for formal and non-formal education systems to be linked more systematically to allow for easier transition from the non-formal to the formal system. Finally, the admission to formal public schools should enable the entry or re-entry by providing alternative placement options and independent learning approaches for over-aged children or those that have re-entered (ILO, 2018).
In conclusion, the access to education can play a significant role in limiting the cases of drop-out rates in schools and the subsequent engagement of children in work. Even when education is free, it still has some fixed costs, such as those of transport, meals, and books. Unfortunately, most extremely low-income families are unable to afford these fixed costs, which forces children to enroll in work. Therefore, the provision of an accessible free public schools education system can guarantee that children are withdrawn from work.
International Labor Organization [ILO]. (2018). Formal education and the prevention of child labour. Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/ipec/Action/Education/Formaleducationandthepreventionofchildlabour/lang–en/index.htm.
Menon, N. & Rodgers, Y. (2017). Child labor and the minimum wage: Evidence from India. Journal of Comparative Economics, 1-15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jce.2017.09.001.
O’ Donnell, O., van Doorslaer, E. & Rosati, F. (2002). Child labour and health: Evidence and research issues. Working Paper: An Inter-Agency Research Cooperation Project (ILO, UNICEF, World Bank Group), Retrieved from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1780320.
Sarkar, J., & Sarkar, D. (2016). Why does child labor persist with declining poverty? Economic Inquiry, 54(1), 139-158.