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Child Labor: A Normative Perspective


  • Debra Satz


Examining child labor through the lenses of weak agency, distributive inequality, and harm suggests that not all work performed by children is equally morally objectionable. Some work, especially work that does not interfere with or undermine their health or education, may allow children to develop skills they need to become well-functioning adults and broaden their future opportunities. Other work, including child prostitution and bonded labor, is unambiguously detrimental to children. Eliminating these forms of child labor should be the highest priority. Blanket bans on all child labor may drive families to choose even worse options for their children, however. Moreover, child labor is often a symptom of other problems--poverty, inadequate education systems, discrimination within families, ethnic conflicts, inadequately protected human rights, weak democratic institutions--that will not be eliminated by banning child labor. Copyright 2003, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Debra Satz, 2003. "Child Labor: A Normative Perspective," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 17(2), pages 297-309, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:wbecrv:v:17:y:2003:i:2:p:297-309

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    6. Albala-Bertrand, J. M., 1993. "Natural disaster situations and growth: A macroeconomic model for sudden disaster impacts," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 21(9), pages 1417-1434, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Espen Villanger, 2006. "Is Bonded Labor Voluntary? Evidence from the Liberation of the Kamaiyas in the Far-Western Region of Nepal," CMI Working Papers 16, CMI (Chr. Michelsen Institute), Bergen, Norway.
    2. Strulik, Holger, 2008. "The Role of Poverty and Community Norms in Child Labor and Schooling Decisions," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Zurich 2008 42, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
    3. Espen Villanger, 2006. "Is bonded labor voluntary? A framework against forced work," CMI Working Papers WP 2006: 7, CMI (Chr. Michelsen Institute), Bergen, Norway.
    4. Carine Milcent & Jack Huguenin & Danielle Carusi-Machado, 2005. "Children In Brazil: Health, Education And Work," Anais do XXXIII Encontro Nacional de Economia [Proceedings of the 33th Brazilian Economics Meeting] 173, ANPEC - Associação Nacional dos Centros de Pósgraduação em Economia [Brazilian Association of Graduate Programs in Economics].
    5. J. French, 2010. "Children’s Labor Market Involvement, Household Work, and Welfare: A Brazilian Case Study," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 92(1), pages 63-78, March.

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