Child labor

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New York Newsboy (1908)

Child labor is work performed by children for gainful purposes.


The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines the upper limit for child labor under normal circumstances as 15 years (Minimum Age Convention 138). Although Convention 138 has only been ratified by around a quarter of the ILO member states, this definition is internationally recognized.

A child is said to be working when it is economically active. Governments and international organizations typically treat an individual as economically active when he or she does work on a regular basis that is remunerated for him or that results in results that are intended for the marketplace. Estimates of the extent of child labor can increase sharply when unpaid or non-market work is also taken into account. According to a study on the extent of child labor in Tamil Nadu in 1983, the estimate for the proportion of 5–14 year olds increased from 13 to 33% if a more liberal definition than that of the ILO is used.

The ILO often differentiates between “child work” and “child labor”, with “child labor” denoting the less valued part of “child work”, while “child work” can also include simpler housework and can have a learning value.

The UN - CRC (CRC) defines child labor as work of under-18s who hurt them or prevent them from attending school (KRK, Article 32).

History of child labor

Child Labor in a Factory (USA, 1908).

Child labor has been around for a long time, but with industrialization in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and the United States, it took on proportions that severely impaired the health and education of the population. In this era, children from four, six or eight years of age not only worked as auxiliaries and servants, but also to a large extent in the textile industry , in coal pits and mines , between 10 and 16 hours a day. Some mining jobs could only be done by children because of their small size. At the beginning of the 19th century, a third of factory workers in the United States were between seven and twelve years old.

Children who worked had only a minimal level of schooling in addition to high health risks. According to an investigation in 1819, of 715 children who worked, only 455 could read, 351 could write a little and 234 could do arithmetic. Child labor enabled the families to earn additional and often urgently needed income. The companies that employed children therefore felt like benefactors. In doing so, they exploited the child laborers, who usually only received a fraction of the wages of an adult worker.

Eleonorenhain glassworks (today Lenora) / Bohemia 1890 Child labor when registering

In England, as Friedrich Engels noted in his study The Situation of the Working Class in England (1845), spinning and weaving machines took over an increasing proportion of the work that had previously required physical strength, and the remaining tying together of broken threads was now mostly done by women and men Children at lower wages. Due to the high mortality when working on the machines - the children were often crushed between the rows of machines and the speeding machine frames - children from orphanages were employed . In the course of the 19th century, several factory acts ("Factory Acts") gradually restricted child labor. In Europe, the United Kingdom was the first country to restrict child labor in 1833, and a little later Prussia passed an even more progressive and far-reaching protection law in 1839 with the Prussian Regulation . The decisive factor was not the poor quality of the recruits, as was long assumed as a result of Marxist research, but the massive violation of compulsory schooling.

The American photographer Lewis Wickes Hine (1874–1940) documented child labor on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee at the beginning of the 20th century .

History of child labor in Germany

In the past, children were often used in mines, for example so-called divorce boys and pit boys and as helpers in their parents' farm .

With the Prussian regulation , Germany was one of the first countries to take on the problem from the state side. The law forbade 9 to 16-year-olds to work more than ten hours a day, and Sunday and night work was forbidden for them. In 1853, the minimum age for factory work was raised to twelve years. The law was not always implemented, and in 1858 12,500 children between the ages of 8 and 14 were working in Prussian factories. As a result of child labor, the trade supervisory authority was established in Prussia .

In the Kingdom of Bavaria and the Grand Duchy of Baden , child protection provisions were enacted in 1840, in the other German states only in the 1860s.

A child protection law that came into force on January 1, 1904, prohibited the employment of children under the age of twelve in commercial companies in the German Empire . Child labor in family businesses was allowed in 1906 for those under 10 years of age.

see also Youth Employment Protection Act # History

History of child labor in Switzerland

In Switzerland, between 1800 and 1950, the authorities allowed farmers to contract children , i. H. Orphans and children of divorce at auction. Such children were mostly used in forced labor .

Especially in the 19th century and into the 1920s, children from Tyrol, South Tyrol, Vorarlberg and Switzerland walked across the Alps to Oberschwaben every year to work in agriculture over the summer (see separate article on this) Swabian children ).

Situation today

Child labor - toil to survive
A child as a member of a youth team in a brick factory in
Paraguay in 2008

According to UNICEF figures, 190.7 million children between the ages of five and 14 now work, most of them in agriculture , in small workshops , as workers in quarries , as street vendors or maids . Especially a lot of child labor, there is here in Asia , the Pacific and in Africa south of the Sahara:

  • Asia and Pacific: 122.3 million
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: 49.3 million
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: 5.7 million
  • Other regions: 13.4 million

Child labor in tourism

Children sell food for monkeys in Wat Tham Khan (Thailand)

According to the International Labor Organization, at least 10% of those employed in tourism worldwide are children. According to UNICEF, around a million of these are sexually exploited.

Example India

Exactly twenty years after a law that only made employment in “dangerous workplaces” - for example in factories - a punishable offense, in 2006 one will follow that also includes the work of children under the age of 14 in other households and restaurants. Skeptics believe that this law, as before, would hardly be observed. They call for collaboration between employers, non-governmental organizations and the government, and programs that allow families, e.g. B. enable them to send their children to school. In the meantime it has come to light that children are often used for dangerous backbreaking work with jackhammers in Indian quarries. That is why Misereor refers to the Xertifix natural stone seal from an independent organization. The Austrian aid organization Jugend Eine Welt also refers to child labor in the fireworks industry in India. Children and adolescents handle dangerous and highly toxic substances that have serious health consequences. So far, however, there is no seal of approval for fireworks.

In particular, the Sumangali principle allows social fears to be used to enforce child labor. It is used in particular in the Indian textile industry.

Combating child labor

A children's union is an organized group or union in which working children and young people actively and collectively stand up for their own rights. In general, the organization is created with external support, for example from a non-governmental organization.

The Xertifix association is committed to combating exploitative child and slave labor in the natural stone industry.

Goodweave is a seal of approval for certified carpets without exploitative child labor.

In some countries, companies are required to ensure that child labor is not used either in their own activities abroad or in the activities of their suppliers abroad. For Germany, an initiative calls for a supply chain law that obliges companies to comply with human rights in production abroad.

Causes and consequences of child labor

The main cause of child labor is parental poverty . The analysis of extensive data on private households in developing countries showed that most parents would never send their children to work unless extreme necessity forced them to do so. Conversely, however, child labor also leads to an increased supply of cheap labor and thus to low wages. Child labor is also a cause of parental poverty.

Legal assessment of child labor

With the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, the United Nations guaranteed children the right to be protected from economic exploitation. In 2002 an international day of remembrance was established with the first World Day against Child Labor , which takes place annually on June 12th . Since 2003, there has also been increased reference to child trafficking (slavery) on this day of remembrance .

In Germany, child labor is defined by the Youth Labor Protection Act (JArbSchG): work by children or young people who are still subject to compulsory full-time schooling is prohibited with exceptions specified in the law, for example for light activities for children aged 13 and over. The employment of children at events can be approved by the trade supervisory authority. The employer must then apply for special permits before starting work on children , which can be provided with requirements , instructions and / or conditions .

By contrast, in an attempt to boost the country's economy , Bolivia legalized child labor in 2014, contrary to recommendations by the ILO, from the age of 10.

Contentious issues

The answer to the question of what is considered to be exploitative and what is unproblematic child labor has changed dramatically over the course of history; today it is answered differently from region to region. The International Labor Organization in particular advocates a general worldwide ban on child labor, from which there should only be exceptions within narrow limits. For some time now, the objection to this attitude has been that it does not take the specific interests of affected children and their parents seriously enough.

Position of the ILO

The International Labor Organization (ILO) sets the age limit up to which child labor should normally be prohibited at 15 years in Article 2, Paragraph 3 of the “Convention 138” (“Minimum Age Convention”) passed on June 26, 1973. But Convention 138 was only ratified by around a quarter of the ILO member states. Germany signed the Minimum Age Convention on April 8, 1976.

In August 2020, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Tonga deposited the instrument of ratification of Convention 182 "on the abolition of the worst forms of child labor" with ILO Director General Guy Ryder . For the first time in the history of the ILO, all 187 member states had supported a common convention.

Today the ILO regards the following forms of child labor as exploitative and advocates the worldwide abolition of these forms of child labor:

The global increase in prosperity in the event of a complete abolition of child labor would, according to calculations by the ILO in 2004, amount to 4 trillion US dollars; the cost in this case would be $ 760 billion. According to estimates by the ILO, 152 million children were in child labor in 2020, 73 million of them with additional risks.

Opposing positions

In some areas in poor countries, such as southern India, there is a gradual reassessment of child labor. There is now partly a union organization for child workers; The aim is not the abolition of child labor, but a "more humane design" (more limited working hours, no more hiding child labor, health protection, slightly better wages). Organizations of working children are stronger in some countries in Latin America and Africa. They organized themselves as a worldwide children's movement and held a world meeting in Berlin in 2004 .

Critical social scientists, especially those around Manfred Liebel , accuse the ILO of viewing the phenomenon of child labor in a “tunnel-like manner”. These scientists counter the following theses to the ILO:

  1. Learning is not only successful in school; There are educational concepts and educational reform schools that specifically link learning with work experience.
  2. “Decent work” is a possible solution to their problems not only for young people, but also for working children who can acquire professional qualifications at work.
  3. Child labor is not always an “obstacle to development”; it does not always hinder the overcoming of poverty.
  4. At the center of all considerations must be the question of what could help to improve the situation of working children; The working children and their organizations must be listened to and a serious dialogue should be started with them in mutual respect. Working children as well as adult workers should be supported in achieving better working conditions.

In the members' magazine of GEW Berlin, Manfred Liebel takes the position:

“A general ban on child labor means disadvantages rather than advantages for children. It does not take into account the specific living conditions of the children and their families and, where the children's income is essential for survival, it can plunge families into even greater hardship. It does not affect the reasons that motivate children to work, nor does it respect their will to help their families. It puts the children who have to continue to work in a situation of illegality and makes them less rights and more defenseless. "

The development organization Aktion 3. Welt Saar also speaks out against a ban on child labor. In her “pamphlet” “Child labor - who is it good for?” She also points out the danger that the ban would not end child labor, but would only make it illegal, where “it would act in an even less lawful framework”. Because "the economic necessity of their [the children's] work is not abolished by a ban, but rather intensified". The 3rd World Saar campaign also proposes a specific catalog of measures in its pamphlet:

  1. The recognition by the ILO and other international organizations of the organizations of working children and young people that have existed since the 1970s so that they can "represent their interests and assert their rights - locally, nationally and internationally".
  2. A stronger focus on the enforcement of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  3. Fair trade should be expanded so that parents can earn enough and so that the economic necessity of child labor is eliminated.
  4. The project “Municipalities buy products without child labor”. The background to this is that “the orders from the municipalities in Germany amount to 360 billion euros. With around 60% of all public contracts, they are the largest clients ”. According to the idea of ​​the 3rd World Saar campaign , the municipalities should set a good example and "refrain from products from exploitative child labor". For example, the municipality of Rehlingen-Siersburg passed such a resolution in December 2005, and in April 2007 the Saarland state parliament also joined this resolution.

The children's aid organization Terre des Hommes advocates “worthy work” by children:

“Child labor is not exploitative per se. Girls and boys work with and learn, for example, help with housework the basic skills of housekeeping or help in the family business different craft or land development techniques. With help and work, important social values ​​are conveyed, such as cooperation and commitment to a community. Work can be a means of self-fulfillment and can meet material and social needs. If children are involved in work according to their age and skills, they gain self-confidence and learn to be productive for the community together with others. "

In Germany, many children and their parents do not understand the rigorous prohibition of child labor: In a "report on child labor"

“According to the findings of the federal states, children are often interested in taking up employment. Employment is mostly sought for financial reasons. In addition, the interest in the work itself also plays a role. The parents usually have no objection to the employment of their children. They asserted that by having a job, the children could make good use of their free time and earn their own money. In the opinion of many parents, it also offers children the opportunity to gain initial experience in professional life. In light of this, some parents and children see the applicable child labor legislation primarily as restrictions rather than measures to protect children. As a result, they show little understanding for state controls. The awareness of wrongdoing in the case of legal violations is sometimes not very pronounced. The sense of the fundamental ban on child labor in the commercial and industrial sector is being questioned. "

Economists like Fabrizio Zilibotti argue that a strict ban on paid work for children in developing countries could mean that they would then have to work unpaid on the home farm, which would further worsen their educational and career opportunities.

The economist Matthias Döpke (professor at Northwestern University in Illinois, USA) also believes that international boycotts against child labor make it worse than better.

In 2009 Döpke and Zilibotti wrote two 'working papers' on the subject.

Marxist view of the debate about the prohibition of child labor

In the first quarter of 2010, the Marxist theory magazine GegenStandpunkt dealt with the issue of child labor and the associated discussion between proponents and opponents of a ban on child labor. Based on a Marxist understanding of the global market economy, it criticizes both supporters and opponents of a ban.

In the case of the "scandal of child labor", for example, the "scandalous principle of wage labor " is generally referred to and specified in relation to child labor:

"Child labor pays off: For a profit calculation that calculates costs and surpluses, for which the low price and the extensive work of the bought-in labor is a decisive means, for which cheap, abundantly available, defenseless child laborers are worthwhile - and even completely especially. [...] Equity of wages and reckless expenditure of labor are conditions of 'employment'; the need to earn money makes wage workers vulnerable to blackmail; [...] Child labor is a particularly blatant case of costing with profitable work. "

Both the position of proponents of a ban, who see child labor as "excesses" of the market principle, and opponents of a ban, who assume an improvement in the living conditions of children through the unhindered implementation of profit interests, are thus criticized as too short-sighted.

Children's competitive sport

Since about 7 years of training can be expected before maximum performance is achieved, performance training in sports that peak very early (e.g. gymnastics before puberty , i.e. 20 hours of training / week at 12 years of age) is considered To classify child labor , as money is earned in the performance cadres. In the legal reports it had ordered, the DOSB defended itself against the charge of organizing child labor, but the problem remains that in Germany and other western industrial nations, too, money is earned with externally determined training (= work).

See also


Web links

Commons : Child Labor  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Child labor  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Duden - German Universal Dictionary, 6th, revised edition. Mannheim, Leipzig, Vienna, Zurich: Dudenverlag 2007. Accessed May 15, 2013 .
  2. a b c Basu, K. (1999): Child Labor: Cause, Consequence, and Cure, with Remarks on International Labor Standards. Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 37, pp. 1083-1119. (PDF; 182 kB)
  3. ^ Edward P. Thompson: The emergence of the English working class , Volume 1, Frankfurt a. M. 1987, p. 360 ff.
  4. ^ Friedrich Engels, The situation of the working class in England , Chapter 9 , Project Gutenberg
  5. On the history of child labor in Germany and Europe, bpb October 16, 2012
  6. Kastner: Kinderarbeit, p. 8 fu 13–70 et passim.
  7. ^ Regulations on the employment of young workers in the factories of March 9, 1839 [1]
  8. On child labor up to the First World War and its legal regulation cf. Collection of sources on the history of German social policy from 1867 to 1914 , Department I: From the time when the Reich was founded to the Imperial Social Message (1867–1881), Volume 3: Workers' protection , edited by Wolfgang Ayaß , Stuttgart / Jena / New York 1996; Collection of sources on the history of German social policy from 1867 to 1914, Section II: From the Imperial Social Message to the February decrees of Wilhelm II (1881–1890), Volume 3: Workers' protection , edited by Wolfgang Ayaß, Darmstadt 1998; Collection of sources on the history of German social policy from 1867 to 1914, III. Department: Expansion and differentiation of social policy since the beginning of the New Course (1890–1904), Volume 3, worker protection , edited by Wolfgang Ayaß, Darmstadt 2005.
  9. Xertifix - seal of approval for natural stones from India ( memento from March 5, 2010 on WebCite ). Published in Consciously How! Edition 7.2007.
  10. Christine Möllhoff: In the vicious circle of poverty. Frankfurter Rundschau online, October 6, 2009
  11. Initiative Supply Chain Act: Initiative Supply Chain Act. Retrieved July 15, 2020 .
  12. Source: Spectrum of Science , January 2004
  13. UPI News: Bolivia lowers legal working age to 10 to boost economy, accessed July 20, 2014
  14. ILO: C138 - Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)
  15. Kaushem Basu: Basu, K. (1999): Child Labor: Cause, Consequence, and Cure, with Remarks on International Labor Standards. Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 37, pp. 1083-1119. (PDF; 182 kB)
  16. ^ ILO: Ratifications for Germany
  17. accessed on August 11, 2020
  18. To school instead of the quarry . taz from February 5, 2004
  19. ^ "Rights for Working Children!" - Documentation of the Second World Meeting of Movements of Working Children and Young People. In: Second World Meeting 2004 of the Movements of Working Children and Adolescents. May 2004, accessed March 5, 2010 .
  20. ^ Philip Meade: Statement: The new ILO report on child labor - a document of self-righteousness ( Memento of January 8, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) . ProNATs eV - Initiative group against exploitation and for strengthening working children, 2006.
  21. presente - Bulletin of the Christian Initiative Romero 4/2007, ZDB -ID 737126-3
  22. blz - the members' magazine of the GEW Berlin. Edition 9/2007 Archived copy ( Memento from March 25, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  23. Child labor - who is it good for ?, 3rd World Saar campaign, winter 2009/2010 (PDF; 651 kB)
  24. terre des hommes: Child labor: Ending exploitation - strengthening child workers
  25. ^ Federal government report on child labor in Germany . June 2, 2000. Bundestag printed matter 14/3500; Link available at
  26. Patrick Bernau: " Buy t-shirts from children's hands - boycotts do not help against child labor, on the contrary: They even exacerbate the problem ( Memento from January 31, 2012 in the Internet Archive )" (PDF; 25 kB) - FAS from November 22 2009, p. 36
  27. GEO 7/2010, p. 126f; (PDF; 75 kB)
  28. “Do International Labor Standards Contribute to the Persistence of the Child Labor Problem?” , NBER Working Paper 15050, 2009 (NBER = National Bureau of Economic Research )
  29. ^ Child labor: Is international activism the solution or the problem? ( / CEPR = Center for Economic Policy Research )
  30. ^ GegenStandpunkt : “Controversy among do- gooders : Pro and contra prohibition of child labor” , 1–10, p. 9
  31. Arnd Krüger : When should children start exercising? Peter Lösche (Ed.): Göttingen Social Sciences Today . Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1990, 278 - 308.
  32. Fahlbusch-Wendler, Christine: The admissibility of state funding of high-performance sports for children in the Federal Republic of Germany. Ahrendburg: Czwalina, 1982