120 Int'l Lab. Rev. 31 (1981)
Economic Roles of Children in Low-Income Countries

handle is hein.journals/intlr120 and id is 45 raw text is: International Labour Review Vol. 120, No. 1, January-February 1981

Economic roles of children
in low-income countries
Gerry RODGERS and Guy STANDING*
1. Introduction
Most children work, in one sense or another. Some of this work
involves wage employment; a good deal consists of tasks around the home;
much more lies in a statistical limbo, not treated as conventional labour
force activity but of evident economic and social significance. According to
an estimate of the ILO Bureau of Statistics there were 56 million children in
employment in the world in 1976 (ILO, 1979a). Other estimates have
suggested that the number is much greater (e.g. ILO, 1979b). But the very
mention of a figure excites a sense of scepticism. What does it mean? How
is it possible to encompass realistically the different aspects of child work
in a single number? But if scepticism is entirely warranted, the existing
data-unreliable though they may be-are still enough to indicate that the
extent of child work is enormous, and it can safel, be asserted that the
available international data chronically understate th, number of children
involved in economic activity.
The measurement of child work cannot be divorced from its economic
and social significance. Traditionally, a welfare perspective has been
adopted, by which child labour is regarded as an evil to be eliminated. But
it is difficult to make a general welfare judgment on the work of children
that can be maintained across time and cultures. In many societies, partic-
ularly in low-income rural areas, a gradual incorporation of the child into
work activity occurs between the ages of about 5 and 15 so that, whether
for good or for bad, child work is part of the process of socialisation. The
employment of children also often provides an important supplement to
the incomes of poor families. But child labour frequently involves diverse
forms of exploitation, in which the beneficiaries are members either of
another class or of another generation.
Exploitation is perhaps an overused term. Two particular aspects of
exploitation are relevant to this paper: firstly, the extent to which part of
* International Labour Office.

Copyright 0 International Labour Organisation 1981

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