So here’s a video.

And here are some cartoons from

no child labour bolivian poverty line

Most of us accept the social norm that child labour is wrong. It denies children a childhood; children are open to abuse; etc.

But often, I think that we buy into the acceptance of that rule a bit too quickly. There is always the ugly possibility that this kind of moral principle is a social conceit of developed nations. And that when those nations impose this standard of economic discipline on the countries it aids as a precondition for the aid, then they are perhaps doing more harm than good. At least: in the short-term.

The Arguments In Favour of Child Labour

So here’s the other side of Oliver Twist:

  1. Children are able-bodied members of society that possess the capacity to work (after all, when we were at school, were we not ‘working’ for many hours of the day?).
  2. Children are also members of society that consume the fruits of economic labour (food, clothing, housing, etc).
  3. The demographic of the developing economy usually results in a large portion of the population being below the “adulthood” line of 16/18/21 years of age.

Here’s a graph of India’s demographic (you want to pay attention to the graph on the left):


According to, 41% of India’s population is under the age of 18 – and about 10% is between the ages of 14 and 18. If you forced strict child labour laws, you would take ±10% of the potentially productive, and impose their economic consumption on the remaining 50% that would be legally permitted to contribute to society (I’ve left out the population that’s above the age of 65).

10% of India’s population is about 120 million people…

Is that a reasonable burden? If you were part of a family that was struggling in poverty, would you stop your child from begging for food on the basis of ethics alone? That seems…like a luxury. Survival tends to trump that variety of moralism.

The trouble is that kind of blanket imposition is economically crippling. Especially when you consider that the first world nations were built on the back of unethical labour policies (children, slavery, etc).

It’s just not that cleanly cut.

Let’s Talk About The Video I Linked To

  1. It opens with an emotional appeal to rage, asking how you would feel if your child was sexually trafficked, or lung-polluted in a factory “like cattle”, or forced to beg on the street.
  2. It then moves on to statistics:
    1. “120 million parents” face this reality daily in India.
    2. “60 million children in India are forced into degrading jobs every year.”
    3. That’s 6% of the population.
    4. And apparently, that’s why the tax burden is so high.
  3. ?
  4. So the tax burden is so high because children work every day and only 3% of the population pay taxes?
  5. I don’t quite know where to start with that. Because the tax burden is not “high” if only 3% of the population pay taxes…
  6. Then we get told that children only cost 15 rupees per day, where an adult would cost 115 rupees per day.
  7. Meaning that there is a difference of 1,200,000,000,000 rupees per year (based on 200 working days) that gets lost, and that there are 60 million adults being denied jobs if children are taking them.
  8. And therefore, if child labour is stopped, then everyone will have a job and the tax burden will be reduced.

I mean – that’s a pathetically naive argument. There is no one-for-one equivalent of child and adult labour – if you stop children from working, then you just stop them working. There’s no “adult replacement” when the adult wage is 800% higher.

As for the tax bill – OMG. Only 3% of people pay taxes. If anything, that tax burden will increase as social welfare has to step in to support the 60 million lost incomes. And I’m not necessarily talking about government-funded social welfare – there is an inherent societal tax that gets imposed, starting with the 900 million rupees per day that those 60 million children won’t be earning.

I’m not saying that we should go back to permitting child labour everywhere. But I am observing that there is an economic cost to be considered here. And that it’s a particularly high one for countries that have age pyramids like India’s. And that perhaps it would be better to start talking about child labour laws for India in 2050, when today’s children will be in the eligible working class, and there won’t be nearly as many children floating around due to falling birth rates…