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Child Labor Protection Laws - Gone Too Far?

by Hawke published Jan 25, 2017 12:27 AM, last modified Jan 25, 2017 12:27 AM
Currently in a course on the Psychology fo Child Development at EWU. We had a section on Child Labor (and abuse) throughout the world. This was my classroom discussion posting.

Child Labor Discussion

Here is the video we were to watch:

1.What is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

UN in 1989, adopted convention on the rights of the child.:

All children to be treated with dignity, fairly, and equally.

1. ‘non-discriminatory’ (article 2) – for all children, not some.

2. All actions should be in ‘the best interests of the child’ (article 3).

3. ‘promotes development’ (article 6) of the child.

4. ‘children are to have a say’ (article 12) in matters affecting them.


2.What are the four key areas of children’s rights?

Rights grouped into 4 key areas:

1. Right to survival:



clean water

healthcare necessary to live

2. Right to protection:

fell safe and secure

especially because subject to neglect

especially during times of war, and in child labor

3. Right to development:


Time to play

Opportunities to grow and develop in all aspects of community life

4. Right to participation:

be involved in the life of their communities

express themselves

participate in decisions that affect them


At the risk of fulfilling the role of "that <insert adjective> person", regarding which shoes I would prefer to be in, I’m going to play a little devil’s advocate here. I hope the points brought up here are taken in the constructive context for which they are intended.

 For those in the class that are of an older generation (I hope I’m not the only one besides the professor! :-) ) how many of you had a newspaper route, or grocery bagger / shopping cart handler, or similar job when you were under 16/18?

For those of you that are younger, did you try to get work when you were under 18? Under 16? Under 14? What were your experiences? For example, do you think it is abusive to have 12 year old grocery store baggers work a 4 hour shift 5 days a week ?

While wholeheartedly agree with the how bad the extreme examples of child labor are, and the many abuses throughout history, including by relatives, and currently going on in many countries, as I watched the video, listening to the dialog, I was repeatedly reminded of how it can be taken too far the other direction as well. Finding a balance is of course subjective and changeable, but I would like to illustrate what I mean with some personal examples from myself and my kids.

Before I do so, please don't misunderstand, so many of the examples illustrated should definitely be addressed, but complete bans on child labor by ago, with no consideration of the circumstances and the actual safety of the child, assuming always worst case scenarios, will have consequences that need to be considered.

Some of the references to child labor laws in these examples are based on what the current laws are, I don’t know in many cases what they were at the time. They may have been perfectly legal in the 70s and 80s, but are clearly documented as illegal now. I am pointing out examples of both the good, and the risks, associated with this topic, from a very personal perspective. And the difficult choices we have to wrestle with as a society, rather than make blanket black and white decisions without context or freedom of choice or opportunities for growth from risk.

I began helping my father working on the properties in northern California. Clearing the field, planting trees, etc. Not a farm, but similar small scale related activities. Not a problem right?

Later, I had opportunities, at 9 years (1979) old to work at a family owned underground gold mine in the central Idaho Sawtooth/Frank Church Wilderness. While I didn't initially work underground, I was a go-pher for my grandfather, and other workers at the mine. I washed dishes, chopped firewood, helped with the surveying, etc. And I was paid for it. Most states this is illegal at such a young age, but many have clauses for family-run businesses. It was a wonderful time, I learned so much, and it fundamentally helped me grow exponentially as a person from those experiences. The only injury I sustained, despite some of the work being somewhat dangerous, was a big bruise on my forehead, when an old cousin and I started playing baseball with the left over wood chunks from chopping firewood, and a 2x4. I was serving, and we were having a great time, when one of them flew back and smacked me in the head. Ouch. Saw stars, but luckily didn’t hit eye. :-)

Around this time I also learned about computers, and started writing my first simple programs.

In Utah, by 1982 (11-12 years old), I had my first paid programming gig. I wrote some Point of Sale (POS) and inventory software in BASIC for a neighborhood video rental store, and received about $600 for a couple weeks worth of work. This was a huge amount at the time for that age especially. Other than being taken advantage of, this isn’t very dangerous work, but this would technically be illegal by most child labor laws that focus exclusively on age, rather than circumstances, and so we did the whole thing “under the table” (paid cash).

Also, during the summer when I was 12, back in Calfornia visiting, I worked on a friend-of-the-family’s ranch, working with my uncle as a heavy laborer. Brick laying, cement, retaining wall landscaping, etc. At the end of a few weeks, I accidentally mis-stepped on a rock, and did dislocate my hip unloading 200 lb railroad ties (used for landscaping), and spent a couple weeks on the couch recovering, and had a limp for about a year. I would prefer not to have had the accident, but I wouldn’t trade that for missing out on the experience (and the pay). Accidents can happen anywhere, there wasn’t any undue neglect or abuse in the least.

When I was 13, I spent some weeks during the summer on some week-long horse rides in Colorado and New Mexico, including rodeos, roundups, etc. Also risky, but such wonderful opportunities, and the time spent with the Navajo elders was priceless. But the mucking stalls, training horses, and rounding up cattle, and not through family, is definitely considered dangerous work, and outside of family would be illegal by most US state child labor laws nowadays as well.

From 14 through 17, I worked various jobs, including back at the Idaho mine during the summers, getting paid hourly wages, working 16 hours a day, 10 days per shift (Then 4 days off, because the nearest paved road took half a day to reach by pickup). I was on the road crews, handled dynamite, blasting caps, fuses, etc. Heavy duty chainsaws for lumberjacking, built huge retaining walls, handled heavy duty construction equipment (backhoes, front end loaders), 1-2 ton mining cars by hand, hauled ore, mucked, diamon drilled, and so much more! What a wonderful experience.

I would give so much for my kids to be able to experience 1/10th what I was fortunate to do.

At 16 I had a part time driving and event setup/teard down job at a company in Utah, setting up tables, gazebos, etc. for weddings, conferences, etc.

In my adult life I became manger, did a lot of hiring (and some firing), employed local and overseas/outsourced workers, became CTO, CIO, president, etc. of various companies, and have started and sold a number of small businesses over the years. A combination of the above work experiences, (and role-playing gaming, but that is another topic), I believe are directly responsible for the successes in later life.

Now, to contrast what has happened with my 3 sons, now 17, 19, and 21.

While I’ve tried to provide as much opportunity as possible for them to have some of the experiences, the laws are now so strict, even with family labor, that it nearly impossible for them to have even a fraction of the same opportunities for development under 16 to 18 years old, especially here in Washington state.

Each of them, on their own initiative has wanted to work in various areas, including just simple jobs like grocery bagger, shopping cart handler, mowing lawns, snow shoveler, delivering newspapers etc. While some have also tried more distinctive endeavors like software development, computer systems technical support,

Try doing this under 16 or 18 years old in Washington state now? All 3 of my boys have been trying since they were about 11-13 years old. They wanted to earn a little more money than they cold earn from allowance or extra chores around the house. But everyone they approached, the youngest they would even remotely consider was 14, but indicated that the state laws are so restrictive that it wasn’t worth the hassle. I am 6’8”, and my sons around 6’4”. They are big and strong, at 12 they were physically more like many adults. And while they do need adult supervision (Rather than peer/teenage supervision) for such jobs, they were mature enough for such tasks. This may not be true for everyone, and how do we measure such things, other than employer interviews trying to find the right people for the job? Parents/caretakers should DEFINITELY be involved in such decision, to avoid an employer taking unnecessary risks or abuses of such young minds. That being said, they could easily have handled the shopping carts and bagging jobs, stocking jobs, warehouse jobs, at 12 years old, but the law says, “not even a chance” of considering the possibility they could work those jobs.

The boys did manage some entrepreneurial endeavors with computers, and the odd lawn mowing here and there, which is something. But the newspaper routes, the bagging jobs, etc. The companies on the Washington side of the border made it clear Washington state made it illegal for them under 14-16 (depending on the job), and many of the 16-18 regulations severely limit the hours, and break times, etc. so the employers really avoid hiring under 18 unless they are desperate.

While it is very difficult to figure out to legislate such issues that have exceptions on a per-base basis, it is so much easier to just have blanket unequivocal laws that do not care about context. I just hoped bringing up these examples were spur some interesting (and friendly!) discussion about these many pros and cons about child labor laws.

I look forward to the further discussion on this topic!


Only one classmate responded (at the last minute). Most postings received 3 to 10 postings typically. But not surprising my long-winded postings might be skipped over because TLDR. :-)



"Hawke, I was officially blown away by your post! I never thought of child labor through the devils advocate lens, but you make some really great points.

The amount of experience you gained from starting work at such a young age was incredible. Even though the work was not something typically done by a child, you were able to learn self reliance from the early age of 9 years old! I can tell those years were invaluable to you from the way you talk about it. I think the mindset of entitlement has gripped a lot of adolescence now-days, precisely because they don't have the same work experience similar to yours. I've never thought of it like this before, but maybe all those tight restrictions on child labor have contributed to the entitlement mindset, because kids can't create a strong work ethic until they are old enough to get a job, which as you say isn't about until the age of 16!

All in all, I think we can all agree that forced child labor is damaging to children's development, but maybe strict laws preventing young, entrepreneurial children from learning 'on the job' should be relaxed a little bit.

You have given me a lot to think about, and your perspective was very enlightening.


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