IZA World of Labor
key topic

Child labor

Child labor is work that is prohibited by law or international regulations because someone is too young to work or because it is harmful or otherwise unsuitable for them. Countries often regulate it to protect children's health—but what is the best way to regulate it?

  • Can cash transfers reduce child labor?

    Cash transfers can reduce child labor if structured well and if they account for the reasons children work

    Furio C. Rosati, September 2016
    Cash transfers are a popular and successful means of tackling household vulnerability and promoting human capital investment. They can also reduce child labor, especially when it is a response to household vulnerability. But if not properly designed, cash transfers that promote children’s education can increase their economic activities in order to pay the additional costs of schooling. The efficacy of cash transfers may also be reduced if the transfers enable investment in productive assets that boost the returns to child labor. The impact of cash transfers must thus be assessed as part of the entire social protection system.
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  • How does migration affect child labor in sending countries?

    Emigration from developing countries can change local labor market conditions and children’s work time

    Mariapia Mendola, August 2016
    International labor mobility has resulted in sweeping socio-economic changes in many developing countries. When a family member migrates for work and sends back remittances, household income may rise, and with it investment in children’s schooling. Emigration flows may also alter local labor market conditions and wage rates, which can in turn affect children’s labor supply. Whether there is more or less child labor as a result of migration may depend on the skill composition of the migrants and on how family members respond to wage changes.
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  • Migration and families left behind

    Families that stay behind when a member migrates do not clearly benefit

    Sylvie Démurger, April 2015
    About a billion people worldwide live and work outside their country of birth or outside their region of birth within their own country. Labor migration is conventionally viewed as economically benefiting the family members who are left behind through remittances. However, splitting up families in this way may also have multiple adverse effects on education, health, labor supply response, and social status for family members who do not migrate. Identifying the causal impact of migration on those who are left behind remains a challenging empirical question with inconclusive evidence.
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  • Does minimum age of employment regulation reduce child labor?

    The global fight against child labor might be better served by focusing less on existing laws and more on implementation and enforcement

    Eric V. Edmonds, July 2014
    Regulation of the minimum age of employment is the dominant tool used to combat child labor globally. If enforced, these regulations can change the types of work in which children participate, but minimum age regulations are not a useful tool to promote education. Despite their nearly universal adoption, recent research for 59 developing countries finds little evidence that these regulations influence child time allocation in a meaningful way. Going forward, coordinating compulsory schooling laws and minimum age of employment regulations may help maximize the joint influence of these regulations on child time allocation, but these regulations should not be the focus of the global fight against child labor.
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