What's Wrong with Child Labor?

In Anca Gheaus, Gideon Calder & Jurgen De Wispelaere (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Childhood and Children. London: Routledge. pp. 294-303 (2018)
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There is broad agreement that child labor is wrong and should be eliminated. This chapter examines the three main moral objections to child labor and considers their limitations: harm-based objections, objections from failing to benefit children, and objections from exploitation. Harm-based objections struggle with baselines for comparison and difficulties with Non-Identity problems. Even if child labor is not harmful, it may be wrong because it prevents children from enjoying other benefits, such as schooling. However, is schooling necessarily more beneficial for children than work? Some kinds of child labor may not be harmful, and may benefit children, but they may still be wrong because they are exploitative. I consider some ways to address exploitative child labor, inspired by campaigns led by child workers. The chapter ends with a surprising conclusion that challenges the broad consensus with which we began: we may have duties to promote child labor.

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Philip Cook
University of Edinburgh


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