Banning Child Labor

From time to time I wonder whether some people are merely stupid or whether they are inherently evil. Or maybe they are actually stupid evil bastards. Just yesterday a report on the NPR show Marketplace got me wondering. It reported that India has recently passed a law outlawing child labor in households and in restaurants. It noted that employing children in factories was already banned.

The brief radio report mentioned that the ban could potentially affect as many as 200 million children. (I am not sure about that number.) Furthermore, one commentator — a social worker, I presume — noted that the penalty was too little and it should be more than just $400. I suppose she felt that a stiffer fine would be required to totally eradicate the shame of child labor in India.

Certainly, children should not have to work for a living. Childhood is when a person needs nurturing, schooling, time to play and explore, the opportunity to grow both emotionally and physically. When a child is forced to work, it hampers her growth, stunts her psychological and intellectual development, and prevents her from realizing her full potential. Child labor is an unmitigated evil and any society which suffers from it should be grossly ashamed of that fact.

That social worker, just like the policy makers who came up with the ban, is a monkey. A monkey which attempts to save a fish from drowning by putting it up on a tree. Well intentioned perhaps but devastating in consequence. From the frying pan into the fire, as it were. Stupid and retarded because these monkeys are unable to distinguish between causes and consequences. Please, lord, please save us from the do-gooders since we are already suffering immeasurably.

Child labor is a symptom; it is not the problem. It is a consequence, not a cause. The problem lies elsewhere and unless the problem itself is addressed, merely addressing the symptom makes the situation immensely worse for the victim children. The children who have to work are most certainly the children of desperately poor parents. Poor people do not love their children any less than rich people do. It is dire necessity that forces them to take that drastic step. It is a choice that they make after considering the alternatives. It is a rational response to an unbearable condition.

Consider a hypothetical scenario. Ramesh is the 8-year old son of very poor parents living in a slum in Mumbai with 4 siblings younger than him. The parents are extremely poor and cannot adequately feed and clothe their five children. Naturally they don’t have money to spare to send Ramesh to school. Instead they depend on Ramesh’s income of Rs 15 a day from working in a small roadside restaurant to be able to keep their other children from falling from mild malnutrition to severe starvation. Ramesh gets to eat the leftovers at the restaurant.

Then the monkeys move in. Ramesh loses his job at the restaurant and now has to rummage among the garbage bins around the city to keep body and soul together. His parents send out Ramesh’s six-year old little sister to fend for herself as the mother has to work longer hours at a construction site to make up for the loss of Ramesh’s cash income. In about a year, the family is significantly worse off than before the monkeys made their move. From an already bad situation, they find themselves worse off. All thanks to the retards that make policy.

A law banning child labor would be a wonderful policy response if there were evil parents who while being quite capable of giving their children a good caring home instead sent them to out to labor in restaurants and factories. That law would be welcome if prevented from working as domestic help, the child was provided the opportunity to go to school, live in an adequate home, receive sufficient nutrition. But that law does not do any good if the alternative to working as a domestic help (and getting something to eat even though treated as a second class citizen of the house) is slow starvation.

Child labor is a rational strategy within the larger framework of the society. There are many factors that go into that response. First, there is inadequate production of stuff. Which leads to why some people get a very small share of that production. In other words, their incomes are low. These people may then have too many mouths to feed. Low status of women in society leads to more children than can be reasonably cared for. Oversupply of unwanted children leads to a low “price”, that is, they are under-valued. Lacking sufficient social safety net, some families are forced to augment their incomes through child labor.

I don’t see how banning child labor can help the cause of extremely poor children. How about throwing the parents of children who work into prison? Seems to me that that policy would have equally “beneficial” consequences. How about increasing the fines on people who employ children? It will merely make the hiring of children more expensive and fewer children will be employed and the “over supply” of child labor will drive down their wages further. And of course, fines means some government employees will extract bribes from employers so as to look the other way. To make up for additional cost of paying off corrupt government officials, the employers will reduce the “benefits” the child receives for his labor.

The evils of child labor cannot be wished away, nor legislated away. The way out is to address the complex of causes which leads to the effect which is millions of children being denied a childhood. The rational solution would involve, first of all, implementing policies which prevent the birth of too many unwanted children. “Family planning” vigorously implemented. But then, no political party has the guts to do so. Next, make it a law that a child laborer has to be paid the same wages as an adult. This would give employers no reason to employ children when for the same wages they can have an adult worker. Third, provide schools and meals at schools (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) for all children. This would make schools attractive for those children who are poor enough to have to work for food. Finally, provide very poor parents a monthly stipend if their children attend school regularly. This would help them make ends meet without having to send their children to work. THEN, and only then, pass a law banning child labor.

I should stress that all of the above (and more) should be done. Just doing one and not the rest will make things worse. For instance, just giving poor parents a stipend for sending their children to school will incentivize them to have more children. Therefore, you have to limit the number of children that people can have.

Is India capable of doing all that is required to eradicate child labor? No. So in the meanwhile, by passing laws against child labor and by banning children from working, we doom millions of innocent children to a life that I would not wish on a rabid dog: rummage in the garbage and slowly starving to death. At least for the rabid dogs I would simply shoot them. For the children, we impose a living hell.

Mera Bharat Mahan. It is all karma, neh?

Author: Atanu Dey


34 thoughts on “Banning Child Labor”

  1. And therein lies the problem. Lack of will to implement effective family planning. Why should a poor couple need to have 5 kids? The govt needs to step in and enforce atleast the 2 kids norm. It is cheaper to spend money on family planning rather than spend on keeping the kids in school. If a couple has more than 2 kids(unless the first 2 are girls), they should lose ration cards, voting rights..etc. But idea is too far fetched to our vote-bank politicians.


  2. A credible unemployment insurance for people living in India whether they work or not will prevent a number of social issues such as child labor, dowry, bribery, corruption, collusion, underemployment, desperation, and reservations.


  3. I shook my head when I read the news and for exactly the same reason. Outlawing this without any other support structure is criminal insanity. Funny I was having a similar discussion with friends just a few minutes ago about doctors treating symptoms rather than the disease.

    Also not sure you are being sarcastic about “family planning” or not. Probably being dumb and missing it, but my impression from your writing would be that you would be opposed to it also.

    Keep writing. You provide interesting grist for the grey mill…



  4. I agree. Your reasoning is impeccable. The problem is the unviable population fed on subsidized oil powered industrial agriculture.The disease can be called ‘illitracy driven irresponsible breeding’. This is one problem that will only be fixed when we hit the top of the J curve. Till such time we can legislate all we want…


  5. truly stupid evil bastards….

    now tell the farmer that his kids are not allowed to help on the farm…

    and fine my aunt for scolding her kids if they don’t do their errands properly… which includes clean toilets, iron clothes, wash dishes, and clear the table after meals…

    and arrest my friend who pays for the education, meals, and clothes of a girl who is their household help…

    and shoot me for letting my local grocer’s boy deliver groceries to my place…

    and i could go on…


  6. Hi,

    Government does rehabilitation also for the children who are freed from this and they have announced 100 Rs stipend for every month.
    Again considering hypothetically In Delhi ,if all those 25,000 children are freed , those job opportunities will be given to the adults.8 yr old Ramesh ‘s father has to work now and he might get one of those opportunities and the trend may get changed. Its just a start .

    ““Family planning” vigorously implemented”

    What do you mean by this? You said 400 $ fine cant help.But how are we going to force that not-more-than-2 restriction .By some means of punishment ,right ?By making their ration cards invalid ,as you said
    1.they should have been given ration card first
    2.This will do nothing other than worsening the situation .They’ll send all the children to

    work or the entire family will be starving.

    If you say we are going to encourage people who does family planning operation by giving them some money,food etc.,the plan is already in place.

    Meal Plan.

    It is already implemented in some of the states.One of the plan government once did was to increase the count of children in schools by forcing the teachers to collect children from the streets.But implementation is still a question mark .Though it helped some children .

    Stipend for Parents.

    Again it has its own holes.Child labor is partially because of poor

    parents and partially because of abusive parents.We cant trust the parents in this case to give them the stipend to nurture their children .

    As you rightly said, Child Labor has many root causes .Those are the same problems we’ve been fighting for a while.But this needs some immediate strict action and cant wait .And the Government should build more rehabilitaion centers and schools and save the future of those children.

    In short I say,What they have done is 100% correct and they should not just stop with that .


  7. Here is a back of pad calculation of the cost of providing the meals that you suggest. Assuming a daily meal cost Rs 20,and taking the 200 million children as the approximate number of beneficiaries you would need 20*365*20 Crores = 146000 Crores i.e almost the entire central government plan expenditure for the year. Hence you have the classical political approach of dealing with it. Legislate and claim to have eradicated the evil.


  8. Atanu, I do agree with that child labor is a symptom not the cause, but I do feel that there is some place for laws banning child labor. I agree with you that such laws will be useful only if implemented in conjunction with increased opportunities for primary/secondary education, mid-day meal schemes, better family planning policies, etc. A law can provide a useful tool to prevent child labor, and can also be used to increase awareness about this issue. Consider, for example, the law banning child marriage. Child marriage is also a symptom rather than the cause – one causes being low status of girls. Laws prohibiting child marriage have had some positive effect, though perhaps only because there has been a simultaneous push for girls’ education, etc. Also in Europe – where child labor was common in the early days of the industrial revolution – laws restricting/banning child labor (along with general economic growth and the spread of education) have played a positive role. According to your line of argument even laws banning child labor specifically in hazardous occupations are unjustified, but surely you will agree that there is some place for laws banning child labor in the most hazardous occupations. Also note: your prescription of a law that forces employers to pay child laborers the same as adults goes against your argument that anything that makes hiring of children more expensive will mean that fewer children will be employed and the “over supply” of child labor will cause more misery.


  9. There is obviously no shock or outrage in your post at a human level, at the fact that children are out there sweating their skin out, that children, aged around six are having to work. Your theory, however wonderful it might sound, also sounds a ignorant.

    Child labor is a symptom; it is not the problem. The problem lies elsewhere and unless the problem itself is addressed, merely addressing the symptom makes the situation immensely worse for the victim children.

    I am hoping here, that you meant it is a symptom of poverty, because that is what it is. I agree with you when you said that poor parents also love their children equally. It is after this that I would like to digress. Most children who work, are children of illiterate parents. The parents, who follow the “upbringing traditions” that go back generations, plan to bring up their children the same way they were brought up: with no education, with labour as a child, and no hope of being better.

    Consider a hypothetical scenario. Ramesh is the 8-year old son of very poor parents living in a slum in Mumbai with 4 siblings younger than him.

    Let me give you a real story. This one, is of a girl who comes under this law. Her name is irrelevant. Her mother lied to her and sneaked her away from school, to work as a domestic worker in a home in Hyderabad. She was promised around 2,000 rupees a year. She was also, after two months of working there, almost burnt to death by her employer on a false charge of thievery.
    The “Monkeys” rescued her from work and put her into a bridge course camp so that she could lead a better life.

    Child labor is a rational strategy within the larger framework of the society.

    Let us consider the same society that you have taken into consideration. Let us assume, that all the children are forced to go to school, and the only labour available in this set-up, is adults. This automatically pulls up the demand for labour. Which, consequently, would pull up the wage rate of the labourers. Also, by hiring only adult workers, you are ensuring more productivity in the labour, than when you were employing children: Children are unskilled labour, and therefore offer less productivity.
    Let me also assure you, that this is a tried and tested theory, and it works right now in around 200 villages of Andhra Pradesh.
    You are only looking at children as being more mouths to feed, whereas most “extremely poor parents” have lots of children to have more hands to work, and earn. This is not to say that they don’t love them, they do. In India, the parents don’t send the children to work only because they need the money. They send them to work, because they don’t see the immediate benefits of education.
    You regarded children as “unwanted” and an “over supply of labour”. Let me try and offer you a new perspective of them, perhaps as “potential labour” which, in this world that is moving in leaps and bounds by the day towards a global world, needs educated people first, and skilled labour only next.

    As for the questions you are asking in the next paragraph, I would like you to think with slightly less cynicism. Child Labour is a social evil, just as sati and dowry is. By banning child labour, the government is only taking the first step into trying to decrease the poverty levels. By eradicating child labour, and at the same time ensuring free and compulsory education (which is by the way, “free” and “compulsory”, so the parents don’t have to pay for it), the country is trying to start at the grass-root level of poverty, and then slowly move upwards.

    Let me explain this.
    Let’s treat child labour as the first step of the poverty cycle. Children are working. Adults are working. Now if children stop working, adults are paid more since a lot of the labour offered by the children now has to be taken up by adults. This reduces the unemployment rate (which is, in India, very high), as well as completely removes the children from the labour market. This also increases the income, since adults have to be paid more. If you would like to look at the production side, even this goes higher because adults are more capable workers than children.
    Now, when children are not working, something has to be done with them, so they go to school. So the children are being educated (for free, and compulsorily). When the children are being educated, they form the first step in eradication of poverty: literacy. Sanitation and health come naturally with education.

    About your next point, of family planning, it would make a difference, but wouldn’t an educated skilled young workforce (considering all children will eventually get out of work and be educated) be an asset rather than a liability?
    About children being paid in the first place, where is your conscience?! Why must a child work at all??

    And then, children ARE being fed atleast one nutritious meal a day (I would suggest a google search on the Right To Food For Children Website, where you will find the supreme court directive to this, and continuous updates on how it is working, which I will summarize as- quite well.) Young Children are being provided Anganwadi centres, with baby food, health check ups, proper toilets, a meal for children above the age of three, people to look after them etc.

    There IS infrastructure in this country for better development, but the fact is, when children go to work instead of school, it is not being used!

    To sum up, I would like to say that the cause of child labour is the argument of poverty, and not poverty itself. That is, when people support children going to work instead of school “because they are poor” you are, infact, creating a situation for more poverty and not lessening it.


  10. How about ensuring that minimum wages are paid to Ramesh’s parents working in the construction site? How about making the right to education, right to food, and right to healthcare a fundamental right for all children? How about social security for the poor, to ensure that their children don’t have to work? Who says that the prohibition of child labour is the last step in child welfare and cure for all?

    The point is, a child working is a childhood destroyed. Monkeys or otherwise, anybody who realises that simple truth, and tries to work in that direction, does a service to the children and to the society.

    The midday meal and the monthly stipend schemes for sending children to school are already there. All you say is, if there is less number of children, there will be less number of children who are working.


  11. Good write up!

    When you talk about having equal wages for children as adults, one cannot overlook the possibility that though a law might come into force intending to enforce it,exploitation might just go up. The flipside of the employer not wanting to hire a child to do the same work for which he might get an adult is that he might see greater profit in actually not hiring an adult but a child who can be forced to work more and/or paid less due to his vulnerability due to age and need vis-a-vis the employer.
    Also important is that children are generally employed at places where the ‘payroll’ does not exist on paper. Even regular adult employees might not be on the payroll of that employer for various reasons like tax evasion. This means that one would have to first devise a system/ policy that makes a ‘payroll’ mandatory, and displays the actual number of employees and wages being paid. And as an incentive to the employer to not evade tax, to not maintain false accounts, to not employ children, you would need another set of policy reforms, probably tax reforms. And a foolproof policy is a dream. You will have loopholes and people finding their way around it.
    Of course there’s always hope! 🙂


  12. This brings me a very personal experience of a friend’s real story. My friend’s father started as a child labour (as a cook) in 1960’s working for construction labourers. He was serving his family in village. Later on his father moved to a university as cook, he met professors, students and learned lot of practical and day today knowledge and moved to a Bank to become peon. The knowledge that he learned during university days inspired him to learn more and he moved on to become a bank cashier raising his children to become successful in their careers.

    The gist of saying this:
    1. All child labour are not bad when the labour is not exploitive and the child is allowed to live life as any normal person.
    2. Government should think “out of the box” and implement policies taking into account that millions of Indians in village needs bare minimum earning person to survive.
    3. Only feeding a child won’t help, put structure (NGO, Village Panchayat, etc) in place so that the investment on child produces result (knowledge and not education mere for food)
    4. Revisit the farmer policy and fact is still millions of people in village works for landlords living in Cities!!

    I have lived early childhood in semi urban cum village and I personally have seen many successful cases where the child has now grown to become a well settled and earning individual in comparison to those children who neither got educated because lack of money nor their parents allowed them to work during childhood.

    Having said that I am not supporting exploitive child labour but merely putting fact that in India many villagers are living under very complex life structure where survival is BIG factor. So implement what suits to masses.


  13. Atanu
    I dont think any one can do much in the short run.
    India does not have adequate education for the large massses and you are throwing in school meal etc into the mix…
    The long term solution to this is to create policies that get a larger %age of people in to higher income brackets so more money is available.
    My model would be to look at Suresh.
    Suresh is not in the same level of poverty as Ramesh, as he does not suffer malnutrition.
    But he is in a rural school in Bihar/UP/MP/Chattisgarh/orrissa.
    The level of education he recieves is poor.
    He suffers from a lack of confidence cause the english speaking skills make him less marketable. So he like many others doesnt bother to pursue further education.

    Now if I as a charitable person am looking to educate 1 person.
    I will pick suresh over ramesh.
    Honestly the government should be doing the same,
    The bulk of population which is rural has inadequate infrastructure but it exists.
    The marginal cost increase in those infrastructure will help more people.


  14. Jawahar Mundlapati wrote

    A credible unemployment insurance for people living in India whether they work or not will prevent a number of social issues such as child labor, dowry, bribery, corruption, collusion, underemployment, desperation, and reservations.

    Dude you have mentioned your unemployment insurance solution on this site over and over again.
    Please explain how this would work?
    the intersting thing is ‘weather they work or not’ bit…


  15. Jawahar
    I saw your graham article previously and I agree with it for the most part.
    As far as maslow is concerned … OK Just what is the big deal?….
    Common sense kind of stuff.

    The basic problem i have with your assertion that you are pushing for a redistribution through government without
    any focus on increasing production.
    US and many other countries can afford this because the americans have more production
    and the added redistribution and the added inefficiencies caused through the government is a price that is acceptable.

    Google videos used to have free to choose series(friedman’s) online for free, but i couldnt find it online anymore.
    Here is an excerpt on youtube(google)

    I have stated my opposition to such policies in context for india.

    India needs to focus on what empowering individuals and focus on policies that
    increase production not redistribution.

    India needs to create more Narayana Murthy’s and less dumbasses who create policies that distribute poverty.

    And dude race to the bottom was in vogue 5 during seattle wto round, get new slogans dude.


  16. Guru, I appreciate the system that motivates people to

    1. explore wealth
    2. accumulate wealth
    3. distribute wealth

    However for it to happen we need to

    1. prevent race to the bottom
    2. promote race to the top

    I am curious to know your view on zero-sum.
    Is economy zero-sum?


  17. JM
    Your framework is flawed.
    There is no wealth exploration.
    ie wealth is not just lying somewhere for an adventurer to find.
    Simply put there is wealth creation.

    Regarding 0 sum
    Transactions are not 0 sum.
    when a buyer and seller come together,
    what do they do?
    Exchange pleasentaries
    Discuss price
    exchange money and good
    Say thank you to each other and go away.
    Both sides are happy with the outcome
    Hell no it is not a 0 sum game.

    This ties back into your wealth distribution.
    The best way to move money around is to
    pay some one to do something useful.
    Not an insurance scheme where you get a check weather you work or not


  18. Thank God child labour was banned. Now the monkey will think twice before having 500 kids each. I think because of child labour these ignorant illiterate low I.Q starving monkeys would have a whole army of monkeys to pay for them. Now that they know have 1,000 kids will destroy them as child labour is banned kids will be a burden not a benifit and it will help India. Good move, this time Atenu you are wrong my friend.


  19. Hi – I just wanna share some of my thoughts regarding child labour… hope you like them…… !!!
    Would even like to listen from you……. Pls call me back on the link provided below.

    The Labour Ministry’s notification now bans employing children below 14 years, under the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act. It bars some specific forms of harmful child labour. However, all again the same question remains as, how the government will ensure effective implementation of the Notice? A ban without a plan will backfire; merely enacting law is not enough, the government should work to wipe the root causes as well.

    This act aims at getting children out of the workplace and into the schools but as you know, it is always easier said, than done! Labour not only harms a child’s development physically, psychologically, socially and developmentally but also takes away their childhood and education. It is a social scourge, which must be nipped in the bud; denying children, the right to education deprives them and the country off a bright future!

    This Child labour is a serious problem; everyone must understand and try to curb this with effective campaigns driven by labour management and government entities. We all must come united and call the government requesting them to take all the necessary steps to stop the child labour and plea for a global focus on this. If each person participates – elimination of child labour will be a reality soon. So let us get together, stop the small little hands from working, and turn this dream true. What do you think? Write me on:

    Mehak Malhotra


  20. The prevailing literature and evidence gives us a clear idea that though much undesirable, Child labor is still a reality in most of the developing countries. A direct ban on child labor had never been an answer to this problem. So models, methods and suggestions have always been appreciated, sometimes to influence the parental decisions of excusing their children from work, some cases to promote more attractive schooling and education or may be by complete ban on those imported goods using child labor as input. Thus the intensity of hazardous working conditions, risks and injuries along with the deprivation from basic education have always make rooms for the researchers a challenge to bring out some feasible solutions and welfare implications from the existing scenario. So how long ‘Poverty’ will be bliss to continue with this age old problem?
    Empirical researches have shown that in the poor families the contribution of the child labor has become a necessity for their survival. Even ‘adult wage rise’ has not been a permanent solution to cease child labor from the work force. From the part of the government the quality of schooling provided has never been more attractive for a child to complement it with the financial independence, though small, that they enjoy out of working. What about those groups of children who work part time to pay their tuition fees?
    What alternative have been provided to compensate the child-income for a poor family? Rules have been made mandatory that a penalty of Rs.20,000 per child to be paid by the employers of children as a result of which more unemployed children are getting prone to illegal activities. Moreover, following the labor standard, a child between the age of 10-14 yrs (in India), is labeled as child labor, but what about the case for a girl or a boy of age 15-17 yrs, rather below the majority age ?
    What extra biological or psychological factors they have to be exposed to work under the same hazardous conditions without schooling ? What about those children who get basic education till the age of 14 and suddenly are forced to earn their own bread ? We generally consider child labor as in increase in the current income and a decrease in the future income which is interfered by low accumulation of human capital due to no schooling. But is their primary or basic education till the age of 14, giving them enough space to be located in the job market? Most of them are not been able to continue with their education or schooling after 14, entering into the informal market. Vocational training initiated by government for these poor children could also have open some ways of proper earning.
    Had ever a child been asked, or the concept of child preference be evaluated or psychologically questioned before starting any policy implication to eradicate child labor?
    There are surely certain loopholes which should be thoroughly considered if we want to curb this social problem of child labor.


  21. hi…i’m a student. doing my grad. m doing a project on CSR in india…was browsing the net..regarding govt regulation…and child labor…stumbled upon ur webpage…just wanted to say that i was gripped by ur article…all this while i was foolish enuff to believe that a ban would actually help…have changed my naive perspective tho…was very impressed with ur delivery and reasoning!!i hope to one day be involved in social work of sum kind…(sum kind….only becuz i hvnt found my tru calling yet…but i kno im headed in th rite direction…)and i hope i dunt becum one of those monkeys…trying to do good…but paving the road to hell!! gonna save ur article…so that i can remind myself and my frens…thanx!!


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