University of Oxford

Child Labour – John Warren


Child labour can be defined as the employment of children under the age of 18 years, it is considered by many people as the exploitation of children, and it is also considered to violate universal schooling and children rights. Children perform duties in factories, agriculture, domestic work, tourist guides, businesses and restaurants as waiters, extreme forms of child labour include child soldiers, trafficking and child prostitution. There however exist other forms of constructive forms of child labour is evident where we have children who are actors or singers.

In developing countries children work in order to earn money to support their families, however in developed countries children work in order to be financially independent from their parents, in developing countries the major push factor to child labour is poverty, this may occur where adults who are parents and labourers do not earn enough to support their families and as a result they end up sending their children to work other than go to school.

This paper discussed whether child labour should be justified or banned, it draws on normative ethics theory that classify actions according to whether they are morally right or morally wrong, according to this paper child labour should be discouraged and those who violate the rights of children should be brought to justice and punished, people should realise that children have to attend school and be trained in order to become future workers and not exploit them due to their low wage and easy to control nature.

Normative ethics:

Normative ethics concentrates on classifying whether actions are wrong or right, the normative theories tends to observe the norms of actions to determine whether these actions are morally right or morally wrong, there are a number of normative theories, and they include consequential theory, deontology theory or duty theory and virtue ethic theories.

Consequential theories:

The consequential theories states that an action is morally right if the actions themselves have an outcome that is beneficial, there are three consequential theories and they include the utilitarian theory, Altruism theory and the egoism theory. The utilitarian theory states that an action is right if the outcome of the action is beneficial to everyone, the egoism theory states that morally right actions are those whose outcome maximises benefits to the person performing them. And finally the Altruism theory states that an action is considered morally right if the outcome of the action is favourable to every person except the person performing the action.

According to utilitarian theory child labour is morally wrong in that it does not beneficial to everyone, the children suffer and in some cases they are not paid, further these children should be attending school or performing school related duties other than working, there is a need to educate and train these children in order to prepare them for the job market and employing them before they complete their education will mean that this is violating their rights.

An example is the India gap kid clothing company where according to the UK reporters there was beating of children in the industry and further children were not paid for their work, child labour, the employers take advantage that children punishment is allowed in many countries and because children are not aware of their rights they are forced to undertake hard work.

Employers prefer to employ children because they provide cheap labour and also they are easy to control, children are also seen to be more obedient than adults, they therefore employ the children for the purpose of cutting down costs and also because the children are easy to control than the adults because adults are related with initiatives which include protests and formation of trade union. The employers benefit in this case and this is in line with the Altruism theory states that an action is considered morally right if the outcome of the action is favourable to every person except the person performing the action.

The egoism theory which states that morally right actions are those whose outcome maximises benefits to the person performing them supports child labour in developing countries, this is because the children achieve financial dependence from their parents and also have a chance to earn money to achieve what they like than bother their children, the egoistic theory therefore supports child labour in developed countries where the child benefits and also the parents whose financial burden is reduced, in developed countries where children work to support their family it is morally right to engage children in such employment opportunities but it must be noted that child labour should not violate their rights to education and also overworking them.

In a case where a rubber plantation in Liberia where the firestone company was said to be the owner of the rubber plantation, Child labour was evident where the company set a high quota that its workers had to achieve in order to get paid, for this reason therefore the workers working in the plantation brought in their family including their children in order to meet the quota set, a critical view of this situation in accordance with the Consequential theories it is clear that the labourers followed the rules set by the company and their only option to meet these set rules was to bring in their children, therefore child labour here is justified by this theory where parents feared loosing their job and the action to involve children would benefit the family and the company at the same time.

Deontological theories:

The second branch of theory is the deontological theories which is also referred to as the duty theory, they state that when making decisions about actions one has to consider the duties and the rights of the others, these theories include the Contractarianism theory, natural rights theory and the categorical imperative theory. The natural right theory states that human beings have natural rights that should be followed when undertaking actions and The Contractarianism theory states that morally right actions are those that we would accept if we were unbiased.

According to this theory the involvement of children at work is wrong, one because it endangers the children both physically and mentally, in a case where children are trafficked and used as prostitutes and as soldiers this violates the laws of nature, children are supposed to go to school and receive necessary training in order to prepare them to become employees, in contrast child labour has turned the children into sexual harassment where they are turned into prostitutes violating natural laws.

Child labour according to the Deontological theories violates the natural laws of nature, this is because children are yet to be adults where the children are young and do not know their rights, involving them at work places will result into the violation of their rights because most employers tend to exploit them by forcing them to undertake hard work and even not pay them, they further know that children are easy to control than adults and that children will obey, the adult workers know their rights and will not be exploited and they will organise demonstration and even form trade unions that fight for their rights.

Virtue ethic theory:

The virtue ethic theory states that morally right actions are those that follow the defined rules and laws of action, according to this theory it is evident that child labour is wrong, this is because in most countries laws have been set that children should not work and therefore anyone employing or letting their children work is violating these laws

Developing countries have lagged behind in the campaign towards reducing child labour, which is the reason why they have a high numbers of children working. for this reason therefore the developed countries have adopted ways in which they can discourage this, for example in 1990 there was a mass boycott of oranges from brazil by developed countries, the reason was that orange producing firms used children labour in the production process, also in 2000 there was boycott of cocoa produced in ivory coast by developed countries, these countries noted that children in cocoa plantations employed children in the cultivation of coca and that children were held as captives to work in these farms, for this reason therefore the developed countries banned the importation of coca from ivory coast but later the ban was removed after the country agreed to stop child labour


The theories of normative ethics do not support child labour, for this reason therefore there should be an increased effort to ban child labour in the whole world because it is not morally right, in most cases children are not paid for their work and are disciplined for not working hard, the employers know that they can pay less for employing children and also that children are obedient than adults and for this reason they will employ children, the employers therefore avoid trade unions and protests from workers in case they exploit their workers, for this reason therefore no child should be allowed to work and this will stop exploitation of children worldwide.

In developing countries where children work to support their families the government should come up with policy measures to improve employment and standards of living, this will result into a reduction of child labour in most countries and a healthy working labour force will be evident in future.


Jonathan N. (1994) The Complete Works of Aristotle, Princeton University press, Princeton

Hare R. (1991) Moral Thinking, Clarendon Press, Oxford

Hare R. (1990) the Language of Morals Oxford University Press, Oxford

Mackie J. (1997) Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, Penguin publishers, New York

Michael Lavallette and Sandy Hobbs (1999) Child Labour: A World History Companion, McGraw Hill publishers, New York

Shelly Kagan (1998) Normative Ethics, McGraw Hill publishers, New York

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