From time to time I wonder whether some people are merely stupid or whether they are inherently evil. Or maybe they are actually stupid evil bastards. Just yesterday a report on the NPR show Marketplace got me wondering. It reported that India has recently passed a law outlawing child labor in households and in restaurants. It noted that employing children in factories was already banned.
The brief radio report mentioned that the ban could potentially affect as many as 200 million children. (I am not sure about that number.) Furthermore, one commentator — a social worker, I presume — noted that the penalty was too little and it should be more than just $400. I suppose she felt that a stiffer fine would be required to totally eradicate the shame of child labor in India.
Certainly, children should not have to work for a living. Childhood is when a person needs nurturing, schooling, time to play and explore, the opportunity to grow both emotionally and physically. When a child is forced to work, it hampers her growth, stunts her psychological and intellectual development, and prevents her from realizing her full potential. Child labor is an unmitigated evil and any society which suffers from it should be grossly ashamed of that fact.
That social worker, just like the policy makers who came up with the ban, is a monkey. A monkey which attempts to save a fish from drowning by putting it up on a tree. Well intentioned perhaps but devastating in consequence. From the frying pan into the fire, as it were. Stupid and retarded because these monkeys are unable to distinguish between causes and consequences. Please, lord, please save us from the do-gooders since we are already suffering immeasurably.
Child labor is a symptom; it is not the problem. It is a consequence, not a cause. The problem lies elsewhere and unless the problem itself is addressed, merely addressing the symptom makes the situation immensely worse for the victim children. The children who have to work are most certainly the children of desperately poor parents. Poor people do not love their children any less than rich people do. It is dire necessity that forces them to take that drastic step. It is a choice that they make after considering the alternatives. It is a rational response to an unbearable condition.
Consider a hypothetical scenario. Ramesh is the 8-year old son of very poor parents living in a slum in Mumbai with 4 siblings younger than him. The parents are extremely poor and cannot adequately feed and clothe their five children. Naturally they don’t have money to spare to send Ramesh to school. Instead they depend on Ramesh’s income of Rs 15 a day from working in a small roadside restaurant to be able to keep their other children from falling from mild malnutrition to severe starvation. Ramesh gets to eat the leftovers at the restaurant.
Then the monkeys move in. Ramesh loses his job at the restaurant and now has to rummage among the garbage bins around the city to keep body and soul together. His parents send out Ramesh’s six-year old little sister to fend for herself as the mother has to work longer hours at a construction site to make up for the loss of Ramesh’s cash income. In about a year, the family is significantly worse off than before the monkeys made their move. From an already bad situation, they find themselves worse off. All thanks to the retards that make policy.
A law banning child labor would be a wonderful policy response if there were evil parents who while being quite capable of giving their children a good caring home instead sent them to out to labor in restaurants and factories. That law would be welcome if prevented from working as domestic help, the child was provided the opportunity to go to school, live in an adequate home, receive sufficient nutrition. But that law does not do any good if the alternative to working as a domestic help (and getting something to eat even though treated as a second class citizen of the house) is slow starvation.
Child labor is a rational strategy within the larger framework of the society. There are many factors that go into that response. First, there is inadequate production of stuff. Which leads to why some people get a very small share of that production. In other words, their incomes are low. These people may then have too many mouths to feed. Low status of women in society leads to more children than can be reasonably cared for. Oversupply of unwanted children leads to a low “price”, that is, they are under-valued. Lacking sufficient social safety net, some families are forced to augment their incomes through child labor.
I don’t see how banning child labor can help the cause of extremely poor children. How about throwing the parents of children who work into prison? Seems to me that that policy would have equally “beneficial” consequences. How about increasing the fines on people who employ children? It will merely make the hiring of children more expensive and fewer children will be employed and the “over supply” of child labor will drive down their wages further. And of course, fines means some government employees will extract bribes from employers so as to look the other way. To make up for additional cost of paying off corrupt government officials, the employers will reduce the “benefits” the child receives for his labor.
The evils of child labor cannot be wished away, nor legislated away. The way out is to address the complex of causes which leads to the effect which is millions of children being denied a childhood. The rational solution would involve, first of all, implementing policies which prevent the birth of too many unwanted children. “Family planning” vigorously implemented. But then, no political party has the guts to do so. Next, make it a law that a child laborer has to be paid the same wages as an adult. This would give employers no reason to employ children when for the same wages they can have an adult worker. Third, provide schools and meals at schools (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) for all children. This would make schools attractive for those children who are poor enough to have to work for food. Finally, provide very poor parents a monthly stipend if their children attend school regularly. This would help them make ends meet without having to send their children to work. THEN, and only then, pass a law banning child labor.
I should stress that all of the above (and more) should be done. Just doing one and not the rest will make things worse. For instance, just giving poor parents a stipend for sending their children to school will incentivize them to have more children. Therefore, you have to limit the number of children that people can have.
Is India capable of doing all that is required to eradicate child labor? No. So in the meanwhile, by passing laws against child labor and by banning children from working, we doom millions of innocent children to a life that I would not wish on a rabid dog: rummage in the garbage and slowly starving to death. At least for the rabid dogs I would simply shoot them. For the children, we impose a living hell.
Mera Bharat Mahan. It is all karma, neh?