Child labor perpetuates inter-generational poverty and hinders the achievement of education for all. Often the parents of child laborers were child laborers themselves, who grew up to be semi-skilled, illiterate or semi-literate, and unemployed or underemployed adults. Their poverty compelled them to send their own children to work prematurely, thereby jeopardizing the future of their children. Child labor robs children of educational opportunities that impart the knowledge and skills they need to obtain better jobs as adults. It is difficult to escape from inter-generational trap of child labor and poverty.
||Mesfin, Press Conference, Children's World Congress, Delhi, Sept 2005
Child labor often harms the physical, mental
development of children. For example, 16-year-old Mesfin from Ethiopia has an eye problem as a result of weaving traditional cotton outfits for girls and women for 7-11 hours every afternoon on a loom in a big hole under the mud floor of his house since he was 11 years old. Physically strenuous activities and lack of proper nutrition may lead to stunted growth. Some children have even lost vital organs in accidents at work and been handicapped for the rest of their lives. Children who work in depressing environments often endure emotional
abuse. They lack opportunities to properly socialize with their peers. Child laborers also often miss intellectual
stimulation. Overall, their self-esteem and activities are compromised. Thereby, they are often forced into leading lives of poverty.
Though many parents of child laborers are either underemployed or unemployed, employers prefer to "hire" children as a cheap source of labor. For instance, a survey of employers in industries with high levels of child labor in India reported that 80 percent of all employers cited "lower labor costs/wages" and the possibility of being able to "extract more work" from children as the primary reasons for employing children.29 Employers look at children as easy to manage because they are more compliant and less aware of their rights than adults. Children will not try to organize themselves for their protection. The preference of employers to use the cheapest and most vulnerable workforce contributes to low wages and adult unemployment. Effectively, the vast number of working children reduces the ability of adults to bargain for fair wages, and/or takes jobs away from adults. When employers are able to hire children for less, adults are unable to negotiate for higher wages.
In some countries, there is a close correlation between the prevalence of child labor and adult unemployment; the growth of child labor parallels the growth of adult unemployment. For instance, the number of unemployed persons in the Philippines was recorded at 3.9 million in October 2004.30 Ironically, this figure matches the nearly 4 million children working. Child labor lessens adult bargaining power, thereby hindering widespread development. Despite general economic growth and strong legal protections for children in the Philippines, the continuation of child migration from rural to urban areas in search of work indicates that development for the poor remains less tangible. If jobs were created for and taken by adults instead of children in rural poor areas then the economy would grow more evenly.
Global unemployment was 184.7 million at the end of 2004.31 Nearly 180 million children 5 to 17 years old work in the worst forms of child labor. Simple math suggests the economic benefit of replacing child laborers with adults.
Children are denied their right to education because it is not free or affordable in many countries. Those who work prematurely and extensively may never receive the education or training needed to obtain a livable wage. They grow up to be uneducated and illiterate adults, who are either unemployed or underemployed in unorganized sectors with no power to bargain for fair wages. Like their parents, they are unable to support their children's education. So they send their own children to work, repeating the cycle of child labor and poverty. Child labor is both a cause and a consequence of poverty.32 Child labor creates generations of illiterate, unskilled adults by denying education to the future workforce. Thus, the downward cycle of child exploitation and poverty continues. Eliminating child labor is key to achieving Education for All and alleviating poverty.