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The Myths and Realities of Child Labour

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The concern provoked by the issue of child labour is often based on four myths.

First Myth: Child labour is limited to developing countries.

In fact, children throughout industrialized countries work on a regular basis and children are employed everywhere in dangerous jobs. In the U.S., for example, farmers employs children, many of which are ethnic minorities or immigrants. A study in 1990 of Mexican-American children employed in agricultural in the state of New York showed that close to half had worked in fields still wet from pesticides and that more than a third had been directly touched by pesticide spray.

Second Myth: Child labour will never be eliminated as long as poverty exists.

According to UNICEF, child labour involving dangerous conditions can and must be eliminated independently from more general measures to limit poverty. The atmosphere in this regard is already changing, and governments have begun to work towards meeting their agreements outlined in the Convenction on the Rights of the Child.

Third Myth: Work for export.

Most children would work like slaves to produce goods to feed stores in wealthy countries. Certainly, for example, soccer balls made by children in Pakistan are used by children in industrialized countries. As a matter of fact, only a small percentage of child workers are employed to produce goods for export, perhaps as few as 5%. The vast majority work informally in the street, on farms, or in homes, far from work inspectors and the curiosity of the media.

Fourth Myth: Sanctions and Boycotts.

A path towards progress, according to this myth, would be for consumers and government to create pressure through sanctions and boycotts. Such measures on an international scale are without doubt useful, but they only affect export industries which employ a very small percentage of child workers. These measures are rather broad tools with long term consequences that risk doing more harm than good to children. UNICEF supports rather a joint strategy to develop local initiatives by offering real alternatives, such as free and mandatory primary education.

Translated from source: MELLAMY, Carol. The Situation of Children in the World. Dec 1996, UNICEF, 36 pages, p. 2-5.