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Rights and Wrongs of Children's Work

Michael F. C. Bourdillon, Deborah Levison, William E. Myers, and Ben White

Publication Year: 2010

Rights and Wrongs of Children's Work, a groundbreaking book authored by an interdisciplinary team of experts, incorporates recent theoretical advances and experiences to explore the place of labor in children's lives and development. It condemns the exploitation and abuse of child workers and supports the right of all children to the best quality, free education that society can afford. At the same time, the authors recognize the value, and sometimes the necessity, of work in growing up, and the reality that a "workless" childhood, without responsibilities, is not good preparation for adult life in any environment.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Series in Childhood Studies


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

Even if it is not your habit to read book prefaces, please read this one. Before starting to read this book, it is important to understand what it is, and why, and what it is not, and why. And that involves knowing how it got this way. ...

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pp. xvii-xviii

The book is the result of much research and discussion. We are indebted to the many people—from working children and their communities to researchers, advocates, and policy makers—who have challenged our preconceptions and shaped our observations and ideas over many years. To achieve the broad view that we take in this book, we stand on the shoulders of countless giants....

List of Figures and Tables

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pp. xix-xx

List of Acronyms

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p. xxi-xxi

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1. Raising Questions, Questioning the Answers

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pp. 1-21

In Europe and North America it is widely assumed that factory work is bad for children, a clear case of harmful “child labor.” In this chapter we introduce an example of working children in Morocco which disturbs such common assumptions and attitudes about child work. This example leads to reflection and questions on how children’s interests relate to adult interests, on the way we...

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2. Work That Children Do

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pp. 22-39

The most important thing to understand about children’s work is its enormous variety. As this chapter will detail, children are engaged in many different kinds of work. However, the vast majority of what they do is part time or seasonal, unpaid, involved in agriculture or homemaking, and is connected to their family. Relatively few children work full time, in paid jobs, away from family, or in...

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3. Children’s Work in Historical and Comparative Perspective

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pp. 40-65

In this chapter we compare the history of children’s work, and ideas and interventions about it, in countries with different economic and social histories. We first take the case of Britain, where the notion and discourse of “child labor” as a social problem first appeared, and where the first attempts at its regulation were developed during the Industrial Revolution. We look at changing...

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4. Child Work and Poverty: A Tangled Relationship

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pp. 66-87

In this chapter, we untangle the complex and varied connections between poverty and children’s work. Although poverty may affect household work as well as paid and unpaid work in the labor market, this chapter will focus on labor-market work, both paid and unpaid. Since a general assumption is that poverty is the main reason that children work, and the implication...

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5. Work in Children’s Development

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pp. 88-107

The questions we raise in this chapter regard whether the legitimate concern about harm deserves to be the only major policy interest when considering working children. If the objective of policy is to promote children’s development, should not the contributions that work makes to development merit as much interest as the risks that undermine it? ...

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6. Education, School, and Work

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pp. 108-132

This popular slogan inspiring a major international campaign against “child labor” sounds compelling because it supports children’s education and opposes work that keeps them from it. Its subtext is a widely shared belief that children’s work and schooling are incompatible, and that stopping children from productive work is necessary to ensure that they attend and succeed in school. This view...

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7. Children Acting for Themselves

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pp. 133-154

Thembisa was thirteen years old, living in South Africa with her younger brothers aged seven and two. Their mother worked away from home and returned only once a month for a weekend. This is how Thembisa described her life. ...

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8. Assessing Harm against Benefits

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pp. 155-179

As we have explained in the introduction to this book, we believe that it is not work as such that should be the focus of concern and the target of policies on children’s work, but rather the forms and conditions of work that may harm or abuse children. The question of defining and assessing “harm” thus becomes a key issue. ...

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9. The Politics of International Intervention

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pp. 180-202

The discussion to this point has focused primarily on how work, and interventions in work, affect children as individuals. This chapter expands the optic to consider how national and international policies, institutions, and interventions governing children’s work play out in the national and international politics of “child labor.” The Méknès case, with which the book opened, presented...

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10. Policies and Interventions: What Should They Achieve, and How?

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pp. 203-218

The long-traditional policy focus on “child labor” narrowly treats children’s work almost exclusively as a problem. It is time to replace this focus with a broader and more balanced vision that regards children’s work comprehensively and responds to its personal and social benefits as well as its risks. This book shows that such a paradigm change is needed. Experience demonstrates that the...


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pp. 219-228


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pp. 229-254


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pp. 255-284

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About the Authors

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Michael Bourdillon was born in Zambia, studied Social Anthropology at Oxford University, and taught for over twenty-five years in the Department of Sociology, University of Zimbabwe, where he now holds the post of Emeritus Professor. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813550213
E-ISBN-10: 0813550211
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813548883
Print-ISBN-10: 0813548888

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 1 figure, 6 tables
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Series in Childhood Studies