Western Policies on Child Labor Abroad


  • Roland Pierik,

  • Mijke Houwerzijl

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    • The authors would like to thank Charles Beitz, Ingrid Robeyns, Wibren van der Burg, and the editor and the anonymous referees of Ethics & International Affairs for their generous comments on earlier versions of the paper. Roland Pierik acknowledges the financial support of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.


Child labor evokes deep emotions and is cause for growing international concern. Most recent global estimates show that 186 million children are engaged in full time economic activity. This paper discusses the possibilities and pitfalls of Western policies that seek to curb child labor abroad. Since such policies aim to combat practices in other societies, policy-makers should be aware of the many relevant differences between developing and developed countries. We discuss three issues that are central to this debate: different conceptions of childhood and the dominance of the Western conception in these debates; the distinction between child work and child labor; and socioeconomic causes of child labor. We then evaluate the implications of these investigations for direct and indirect policy options against child labor abroad.