Experts discuss benefits, consequences of child labor across the globe

Debate focuses on how the issue relates to India

POSTED AT 12:00 AM ON Oct. 30, 2006 


Experts debated the benefits and disadvantages for societies where the practice of child labor is widespread at an IU-hosted conference Thursday and Friday.

Sponsored by the IU Department of Economics and the India Studies Program, economists from IU, other American universities and the World Bank the conference focused on the international and economic implications of how the issue affects India and other countries throughout the world.

Child labor first was explored from many perspectives, including its history in the United States, the long-term effects and possible ways to decrease or eliminate it.

"We don't know a lot about the implications of child labor," said Kathleen Beegle, senior economist at the Development and Research Group at the World Bank. "This conference pulled together a nice array of work in the area, but what I take away from it is that there is still a lot more to be done."

One of the main topics the presenters debated was what the result would be if all child labor were eliminated.

"You have to think of the immediate loss if child labor was banned," said Christian Zimmerman, associate professor at the University of Connecticut. "If we ban it, is that something we really want?"

There are many possible ways to approach child labor, Zimmerman said.

America could end child labor in a given country by giving it money, but it comes down to the questions of how much money it would take and if the country would be willing to do it, said Gerhard Glomm, professor and chair of the Department of Economics. Child labor can also be confronted by tackling other issues such as hunger and disease, Glomm said.

If India's schools were subsidized, the number of children who would be able to afford an education so they don't have to resort to working at such a young age would increase, said Carolyn Moehling, an associate professor in the Department of Economics at Rutgers University.

Glomm called America's reaction to child labor "cheap talk" and said more action is needed to address it.

Stressing the long-term consequences that could result from child labor, Zimmerman and the other presenters discussed how marriage, health and education are all affected by the situation. One of the key dangers children face is physical injury because of unsafe working conditions at such a young age, Moehling said. Specifically, she addressed how working in agriculture is extremely dangerous because animals and the use of heavy equipment can be hazardous.

Because of the families' need for their children to work in some cases, children cannot attend school, Moehling said. Sometimes, like in America's earlier years, children would not go to school because work was more appealing to them, she said.

However, child labor is not all bad, Beegle said. While working young, children can learn more about a profession and build discipline, responsibility and other traits they can use later in life.

Despite the many consequences of the issue, Zimmerman said wealthier countries need to pay more attention to child labor occurring in other countries.

"Do we really care enough about child labor to make it disappear?" Zimmerman asked.


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