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Policy Methods For Eliminating Child Labor

ITHACA, N.Y. -- World governments might be more successful in removing nearly 100 million children from the labor market by working to increase adult wages and employment rates rather than pursuing legislative action against child labor, which could be effective only in certain countries, say two Cornell University economists.

These findings from Kaushik Basu, a professor of economics at Cornell, and Pham Hoang Van, a Cornell doctoral student in economics, appear in their paper "The Economics of Child Labor" in the June issue of The American Economic Review.

Large numbers of children under age 15 often work long hours, sometimes in dangerous industrial environments, in many Asian, African and South American countries. In their journal article, Basu, the Carl Marks Professor of International Studies, and Van argue that most parents send their children to work as a response to poverty. Consequently, higher wages for, and lower unemployment among, adults will lead most parents to keep their children from working, they argue.

"If we agree that sending children out to work is an act of desperation on the part of the parents, it seems reasonable to expect that parents would not send their children to work if their own wages were higher or employment prospects better," the authors say in their paper.

Governments should occupy themselves with improving the adult labor market, since its condition can dictate the size of the child labor market, Basu and Van say. Trying to solve the child labor problem first, by banning it outright, could do more harm than good in the poorest countries, such as Ethiopia, they say. Because there is little reason to think the adult labor market can be speedily improved in these countries, they argue, barring children from work would plunge many families into starvation.

But in some countries, such as India and China, where the standard of living is higher -- though still low overall -- a government ban on child
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Contact: Simeon Moss
sfm4@cornell.edu
607-255-3630
Cornell University News Service
15-Jul-1998


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