Child labour is one of the topic that presents strong emotions, beliefs and opinions. Most people are opposed to the involvement of children in labour force activities when they are at an age when other activities, such as education and play, should be the central role in development. However, child labour represents an extremely difficult and complex issue which often extends beyond emotions, beliefs and opinions. Much of this has to do with the understanding that a wide variety of factors, such as economic, cultural, social, political and legal concerns, are part of any child labour problems as well as the solution to these problems. With this in mind, the purpose of this paper will be to discuss the issue of child labour on a national and an international scale. This will not only include an evaluation of it prominence and any problems that are associated with the use of child labour, but also an examination of the efforts that are being made to discourage national and foreign markets who employ children.
In many respects, the issue of child labour on a national scale, at least from a Canadian perspective, is one that is quite limited. Much of this has to do with the fact that a significant amount of powerful legislation and enforcement of this legislation is available. For example, the Ontario Employment Standards Act states that individuals under the age of 18 must be paid a minimum of $6.40 per hour1. Furthermore, through the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, regulations have been created which allow for a minimum age of 16 for logging activities, 15 for factory activities other than logging, and 14 for activities other than factory work2.
Unfortunately, an examination of child labour on an international scale reveals the extent to which this situation exists, as well as the degree to which problems can arise. "A systematic estimate, undertaken in 1985, calculated around 31 million street children worldwide, of whom 71 percent were child workers living at home, 23 percent kept occasional family contact, and 8 percent were entirely separated"3.
While the number of child workers is significant, it is equally apparent that the reasons why they are involved in employment can attributed to a number of specific causal factors. "It is almost universally accepted that poverty is the main cause of child work in developing countries"4 . However, while poverty is an important causal factor, it is often the case that it is not the only factor. For example, some studies have indicated that some child workers "...are from relatively affluent families, and engage in the business for excitement and pocket money"5. This would seem to suggest that "...cultural and economic factors here interact in complex ways to encourage child work and need to be understood together"6.
An examination of existing trends regarding child labour often reveals contradictory and even disturbing developments. More specifically, official data from most countries have shown "...a gradual, long-term decline in child labour, but many experts assert that recent economic crisis in the developing countries has led to an upsurge in juvenile workers"7. Even though child labour is primarily found in developing countries, and that this can be largely attributed to the economic, social and cultural environment, there is some indication of a resurgence in this activity in industrialized countries. Much of this activity also happens to be everywhere and familiar, such as a child who shines shoes for a living, who is at home tending younger children or who is helping in a family farm and business working such long hours that it is impossible to play or even attend school. If anything, this emphasizes that much of the attention that has been focused on child labour has dealt with the problems that can arise. Here we find that "...the potential for gross exploitation and loss of childhood is considerable. Economic exploitation leaves the...
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