Child Labor Laws and Its Effectiveness

Table of Contents


Different forms of child labor have been in existence as long as can be remembered; child labor is as old as humanity. It does come in various ways, including slavery and indentured servitude. When industrialization took form in many parts of the world, people abandoned farm work for factory work and with limited education; most of them could only land on unskilled jobs.

Factory owners preferred children to adults as they were much easier to manipulate, and they charged less on services that they provide apart from being flexible. During those times, there were no laws restricting child labor, and it was openly practiced in most factories. Many youngsters could be spotted in mines, textile industries, glass factories, and home industries.

Quite a good number were also working as messengers, peddlers, and bootblacks. But as years advanced, getting into the 20th Century, labor reforms began to take shape, and therefore most governments began to draw restrictions on the minimum age of employees to be absorbed in any factory.

The number of child laborers, in turn, declined and with the involvement of prominent politicians, high-class working individuals, and social reformers in the fight against child labor.

Organizations with a common goal of completely eliminating child labor were established, and they pushed for withdrawing of all underage children from factories; with the help of their respective governments, they’ve filled that gap with free and compulsory education. These initiatives developed into the first set of child labor laws in 1938 dubbed the Fair Labor Standards Act.

This paper will look at child labor laws, both in the historical and current context, and analyze their effect on how they have helped in addressing child labor. The paper will also highlight some of the difficulties faced by policymakers and implementers of child labor laws.

Causes of child labor

Child labor is known to exist still even though laws and standards have been established to cub it. The causes of child labor that existed a long time ago are still the same that drive kids to early Labor. The causes of child labor include; poverty, limited access to education, workers’ oppression, and lack of banning child labor.

Children from poor families depend on child labor to attain some money to cater for their basic needs such as housing and food. It is estimated that a fifth of the world’s total population lives in abject poverty, with Africa, Asia, and Latin America being the most affected. Poverty pushes most kids in these continents to become laborers at an early age.

It is also estimated that 125 million children in the whole world do not attend school; this is because they lack funds. One way to ensure that the issue of child labor is faced off once and for all it is necessary to make education cheap so that kids from poor families in developing countries may be able to attain basic learning skills.

The other cause of child labor is the violations of child labor laws; “for example, the manufacture and export of commodities will often include many layers of production and outsourcing, making it hard to monitor on people performing labor at each layer.” The increased application of subcontractors aids companies to hide the use of child laborers in their organization.

Examples of Child labor laws

In history, children have been known to be subjected to work; for example, in America, before the arrival of European settlers, children worked in order to promote family unity. Europeans who later on settled in America introduced their social values into the land and even passed laws that were aimed at forcing children to work. The laws adopted required children as young as three years old to work in farms and industries.

The industrial revolution had a huge impact on the issue of child labor; Factories established mainly required women and children workers because they thought that they were easy to manipulate.

In the 19th Century, child labor became so rampant that no one expected that it would eventually come to an end, however as the number of industries increased and the number of child workforce multiplied some factors that affected children working into industries began to be looked at.

One of the factors was that child laborers were growing up without any formal education because they were being exposed to long working hours that left them with no time to study. To handle this problem, laws were enacted that were aimed at forcing factory employers to provide basic arithmetic, writing, and reading skills to their child employees.

The laws were, however, not effective enough, and this led to the introduction of the first child labor laws in the United States in Massachusetts State. The law required that any child under the age of fifteen years spend three months of every year in school (Hugh, 317).

The law was sufficient enough until the end of the civil war that saw the widespread expansion of industries that required more laborers. As a result, children as young as six to seven years were employed in industries and were subjected to all forms of harassment that included working for long hours, being paid poor wages, and working under poor conditions.

The conditions lasted until the end of the 19th Century since any proposal to make amendments to the working environment of factories was met with stiff objections. The struggle continued until the year 1913, where all the states in the United States passed the law that the minimum working age for industrial workers to be fourteen years. In the same year, other laws were enacted that specified places that child laborers were allowed to work.

To end all forms of harassment subjected to child laborers, the fair labor standards act was passed in the year 1938. Up to date, the act remains a law that governs minimum wages of workers, child labor requirements, and recordkeeping.

The law defines a minimum age of 16 for any form of nonagricultural employment but allows 14 and 15-year-old teenagers to be employed in any other sector apart from mining and manufacturing.

All these provisions are allowed provided that they do not interfere with the education of the child employees, and they also do not subject them to any form of harassment. The aspect of child labor in the United States has considerably changed over the years; child laborers nowadays work par time under well-set working standards and at the same time attending school fulltime (Hugh, 330).

The aspect of child labor in developing countries is different as compared to industrialized countries. In industrialized countries like the United States child labor means teenagers who attend school fulltime and work part-time without subjections to harassment while in developing countries child laborers work fulltime with little or no exposure to education and they are also subjected to all forms of harassments such as poor wages and poor working conditions which are hazardous to their health and emotional well being.

The teenagers work as; mineworkers, laborers in industries such as textile and glass, domestic servants, and also as prostitutes. The issue of child labor in developing countries is one of the major issues that are being discussed by the international community. A number of organizations and governments of both the developing and industrialized countries are tirelessly putting a lot of effort into combating the child labor issue.

The United States is one of the major countries that have played a huge role in the whole scenario by annually contributing more than 30 million dollars to support the international child labor (ILO) programs. ILO’s main aim is to put an end to child labor by taking child laborers back to school without affecting their family incomes (Graig, 52).

The fair labor standards act (FLSA) is a structure for child labor provisions, and to be under its provisions, an employee must be employed by a covered organization. In nonagricultural employment, FLSA establishes 16 as the minimum age of employment; however 14, and 15-year-old teenagers may be employed for particular periods that may not collide with their schooling program, and they should not be subjected to any form of harassment.

FLSA states that children under the age of fourteen years are too young for any employment. However, children can perform minor tasks such as babysitting and other simple chores. For teenagers under the age of 18 years, FLSA states that they should not be subjected to nonagricultural tasks that are hazardous to their health (Graig, 57).

For agricultural employment, children working under agricultural farms owned by their parents are not subjected to the FLSA provisions, while young workers who are not kids of the farm owners are subjected to FLSA provisions. Any youth who attains the age of sixteen is no longer subjected to the child labor provisions.

Children between the ages of fourteen and fifteen years may work in farms, but the jobs they are subjected to should not be hazardous and should not interfere with their schooling hours; they should not also be subjected to any form of harassment by their employers.

Children between the ages of 12 and 13 years should be employed in farms where their parents work, and the work they are exposed to should be nonhazardous and should not interfere with their education. Children between the age of eleven and twelve years should be employed during harvesting season but under special permissions that should be given by the United States department of labor (Hugh, 337).

There are other laws that are meant to restrict the hours and type of jobs that teenagers are exposed to. One of the law is the federal limit on hours and type of work; “the law states that teenagers between the ages of fourteen and fifteen years may be employed in industries that offer services such as food, gasoline, and retail and are restricted from working in manufacturing, processing and mining industries” (Lavallette, 25).

The law also prohibits them from working in jobs that may involve power-driven machinery. It also limits the hours worked; that is, they should not work during school hours and should only work for a maximum of forty hours a week.

The second law is work experience and career exploration (WECEP). The law applies all the rules that govern the employment of teenagers, and in addition, they do not allow them to be employed in certain fields that are prohibited for them by the administrator of the United States Department of Labor. WECEP, like other laws, restricts the hours worked by young workers.

The third law is the fair labor standards act. The law declares working conditions that are not hazardous to any minor worker who is under the age of 18 years, for example, it states that minor workers should not be working in industries dealing with explosives and radioactive materials.

In addition to all the other laws stated, there are also state laws that are meant to end any form of harassment to child laborers. The laws are enforced in each state by the state labor department that has the aim of ensuring that the health, education, and working conditions of minor workers maintain a high standard (Fuller, 111).

Solutions to child labor problems

In order to bring an end to the harassment that children workers are subjected to, there are a number of strategies that should be applied. History’s strategies are among the strategies to be fully implemented, and they include; “union and community organizing, free education for all children, campaigns to change public opinion, and the application of universal minimum standards” (Fuller, 113).

The second strategy would be to support unions that fight against child labor. An example is the 2001 scenario whereby America’s university students and workers wrote letters to CEOs whose companies were operating in Mexico.

The letters were aimed at protesting at the ill-treatment subjected to minor workers working in their companies. The solidarity shown by the Americans enabled the factory workers to avoid any kind of intimidation from their bosses and later led to the formation of an independent Union to fight for their rights. Another example is Ecuador child labor abuses, which took place in 2002.

When news spread around the world about the harassment that child laborers were being subjected to, students and other workers all over the world contacted the owner of Alamos plantation, demanding him to support the workers union and stop harassing the child laborers.

“The third strategy for bringing an end to the harassment of child laborers would be to campaign for institutions to adopt and enforce codes of conduct” (Fuller, 114). A good example would be that of the 2000 Olympics, which took place in Sydney Australia. The Olympic committee signed an agreement with all of its sponsors to stick to the labor standards, which included the conventions on child workers.

Another example is the pressure that was exerted on FIFA by Human rights organizations to adopt a code that would see them stop using balls that were made by child laborers. Although the same year child laborers were still witnessed in soccer ball industries, more pressure was mounted by human rights organizations that mobilized soccer fans and consumers to put pressure on FIFA to enhance its factory monitoring processes.

“The fourth initiative would be to implement and support fair trade or labeling initiatives” (Fuller, 115). This initiative would call for the branding of export products as fair trade products if their production and manufacturing adhere to the labor standards.

The common labor standards include conventions on child labor that are meant to stop harassment on child laborers and to have farmers working for wages that would see them provide for their families without having their children to work in the farms.

Organizations like Transfair help to educate consumers about fair trade goods. A good example of the support of labeling initiative is the scenario that occurred in 1990 in Pakistan and India. Consumer groups in these countries worked together with manufacturers by using the “no child labor” labels on their products with the sole purpose of bringing an end to child labor in their countries.

The fifth strategy would be to use collective bargaining initiatives. An example of such an initiative is the one signed in 2000 by the “international federation of chemical, energy, mine, and general workers union (ICEM) and Freudenberg Corporation, which is an owner of most rubber and chemical manufacturing plants in the world” ( Lavallette, 31). The agreement between the two organizations prohibits Freudenberg from participating in any form of child labor.

The sixth initiative would be to promote world labor standards. These standards would see many industries in the whole world improve the working environment of their workers and would require the industries also to abolish child labor and respect the rights of their workers by allowing them to form unions to fight for their rights (Lavallette, 32).

The seventh initiative would be to sue organizations that abuse labor rights. Groups such as the international labor rights fund (ILRF) sue companies that abuse labor laws. An example is a suit filed by the ILRF in 1996 against Unocal, which was using slaves to construct its pipelines in Burma India.

ILRF also filed another lawsuit against Coca Cola Company for using forces to oppress and intimidate the company’s Union leaders in Colombia. This initiative would be applied to hold organizations accountable for any child labor harassments.

The last and most essential initiative would be to increase child access to education. Education is the main key for bringing an end to child labor; many world governments are promoting access to education by introducing free education at the tertiary level to enable its citizens to acquire basic writing and communication skills.

“An example of education promotion that is aimed at bringing an end to child labor is the global campaign for education which is a combination of teachers unions, global march against child labor, Oxfam and action aid” (Lavallette, 34).

Evaluation of solutions

The main aim of all the above-named solutions is to bring an end to any form of harassment that child laborers are exposed to. Examples of such harassment may include; poor working conditions, intimidation by employers, poor salaries, and denial of access to education.

The provision of free education and the increase of child access to education initiatives are essential to bringing an end to harassment of child laborers; because most of the kids will attain knowledge about their rights and will be willing to fight for them to combat any form of harassment from their employers (Graig, 60).

The strategy of supporting workers unions in the fight of laborers’ rights will strengthen the Unions and enable them to work efficiently to expose any form of harassment exposed to child laborers. The exposure of the harassment makes it possible for other world bodies to join in and put pressure on employers to bring an end to child laborers’ harassment.

The other initiatives such as; campaigning for organizations employ the use of code of standards, support of fair trade, use of collective bargaining, promotion of world labor standards and filing of lawsuits against employers who abuse labor rights are meant to bring an end to the issue of employing young kids who may not be immune to the hazardous working conditions.

The initiative’s aim is also to ensure that kids allowed to work in industries are not exposed to any form of harassment and risks that may endanger their lives (Graig, 61).


The issue of child labor is known to have existed from a long time ago, but it was greatly influenced by industrialization; many industries required young kids and women to work in their industries because they thought that they were an easy lot to manipulate.

Over the years, many laws have been established that have the aim of bringing an end to any form of harassment on child laborers, but the implementation of the law has been met with stiff objections from industries that had employed children as their laborers.

The United States is an example of one of the industrialized countries that have instituted laws that have positively had an impact on child laborers. The problem of harassment of child laborers, however, still persists in many developing countries, and to ensure that the vice is brought to an end, several initiatives that have been discussed above need to be implemented.

Works Cited

Fuller, R. “The meaning of child labor”, Mc Clung and company. (1992). pp 111-115.

Graig, K. “Free the children”, Friesens corporation publishers, (2005). Pp.52-61.

Hugh, D. “Child labor: an American history”, Published by M.E Sharpe. (2002). pp 317-337.

Lavelette, M. “Child labor: a world history companion”, ABC-CLIO publishers. (1998). pp 25-43.

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