Sunday, April 04, 2004

Kristof again 

Nicholas Kristof has another interesting column on Africa. This one is about attempts to ban or regulate child labor. While laws against child labor mean well, they don't always have the intended effect:
In 1993, when Congress proposed the U.S. Child Labor Deterrence Act, which would have blocked imports made by children (if it had passed), garment factories in Bangladesh fired 50,000 children. Many ended up in worse jobs, like prostitution.

Then there was the hue and cry beginning in 1996 against soccer balls stitched by children in their homes (mostly after school) in Sialkot, Pakistan. As a result, the balls are now stitched by adults, often in factories under international monitoring.... Bad publicity about Pakistan led China to grab market share with machine-stitched balls: over the next two years, Pakistan's share of the U.S. soccer ball market dropped to 45 percent from 65 percent.

So poor Pakistani families who depended on earnings from... children who stitched soccer balls are now further impoverished.
Instead of just condemning child labor, Kristof argues, we should fund programs that provide free meals in schools. This would provide an economic incentive for parents to send their kids to school. These programs have been tried before, with very encouraging results.

Matthew Yglasias tries to debunk Kristof's argument, and there's a lot of good discussion in the comments. Commenter Wrye makes an interesting point:
A lot of the child-labour advocates out there don't consider the possibility that having child labor out in the workforce undermines the value of adult labour in the workforce--part of why children in some developing countries may need to work to support their family is that their parents cannot make enough money to do so because the presence of child labour depresses the value of adult workers.
In other words, banning child labor would decrease the supply of available workers, resulting in increased pay for adult workers, and thus eliminating some of the financial hardship that forces children into the labor force in the first place.
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