Children and Work: A Review of Current Literature and Debates


  • Michael Bourdillon

    1. Department of Sociology of the University of Zimbabwe for over 25 years, where he remains Professor Emeritus (PO Box MP167, Mt Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe).
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  • The research for this article was made possible by a visiting fellowship at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, sponsored by Plan Nederland. I am grateful to several colleagues for comments to improve my presentation, particularly Ben White, participants at the ISS seminar at which some of this material was discussed, and anonymous reviewers and editors.


Recent literature concerning work in the lives of children raises several contentious issues. This contribution starts with issues arising from conceptualizations of childhood: we need to understand the continuities between the various stages of childhood and the adult world, and see children as active agents in their own development. The article discusses discourse and terminology surrounding children's work; children's rights and their relationship with fundamental human rights; the relationship between work and school; and briefly the relationship between children's work and poverty. It questions whether discourse on ‘abolishing child labour’ works in the children's interests.