Here's how their model works: Imagine a stable economy in which wages are very low. To escape hunger and deprivation, parents find work for their children. But if the government decrees that children cannot work, the demand for adult labor should rise, assuming that adults can do the work the children were doing. With this increased demand for labor comes an increase in wages, which may raise family incomes to a level at which there is no need to send children to work.
Basu and Van warn that economists must study a particular country's economy thoroughly before advising this course of action. If there are any indications that the process they describe will not apply to a certain country, they recommend that no ban on child labor be imposed and that economic development efforts be targeted at the adult labor market.
The researchers say that current political efforts to curb child labor are driven by emotions rather than the results of scholarly investigation and that their contribution helps fill the void of serious studies of child labor.
"This is a field of study where prescription has outstripped analysis by a wide margin," they say in their paper.
And that can be most damaging to the children who work, they point out. For example, Basu and Van refer to a United States senator's proposal last year to make illegal the importing of goods produced with child labor. Shortly after the senator suggested the law, a Bangladesh manufacturers' association fired its child employees, who then ended up in more debilitating jobs and even prostitution. It is believed, Basu and Van say, that the firings resulted from the association's fear of a U.S. ban on their products.
To avoid this kind of outcome, which harms children instead of helping them, careful study of child labor on a country-by-country basis must
Contact: Simeon Moss
Cornell University News Service