‘Kids want to work’ is a poor justification for laws that legalize work by 10-year-olds
A controversial new law in Bolivia makes it the first country in the world to legalize work by 10-year-olds. One justification offered by officials sounded awfully familiar: “Kids want to work.”
We’ve spent the last year investigating child labor in the United States, where children at age 12, and even younger, work for tobacco farmers like Paul Hornback, a Kentucky state senator. “Children need to experience things,” Hornback said on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last month. “When I was a 7-year-old, I was wanting to work.”
Hornback wasn’t the first person to try to justify child labor that way.
We’ve heard that argument in our work around the world — whether about children working on gold mines inMali and Tanzania, children harvesting sugar cane in El Salvador, or child domestic workers in Morocco. Bolivia’s regressive new law came about, in part, due to pressure from a union of child workers arguing they need to work to support their families.
We’re asked, “Don’t these children want to work?”
The short answer is sometimes, yes. But that’s only part of the story.
Photo: A 16-year-old worker harvests tobacco on a farm in Kentucky. © 2013 Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch