The majority of Asian countries experience serious social problems associated with child labor. This paper examines this problem in relation to China and Pakistan. The magnitude of the problem in both countries is considerable. The number of illegally employed children is equal to around 3 million in each country. However, the relative rate is much higher in Pakistan. Cultural and historical factors are significant in exacerbating this problem. However, the major problem is the existing poverty in both countries although China has significantly improved its position recently. Employers in both countries have a keen interest to employ children in order to lower their average costs and obtain additional profits. The provided analysis demonstrates that China obtains much better potential in comparison with Pakistan. It may be expected that the state of this problem in China will ease in the near future, but in Pakistan, it may aggravate.
Keywords: child labor, poverty, culture, historical development
Child labor constitutes one of the major social problems nowadays. Developed countries have successfully solved it a long time ago while a large number of developing ones are still faced with this issue. This paper presents a comparative analysis of child labor problems in China and Pakistan. These countries are chosen for the following reasons. First, both of them are developing countries, and child labor is comparatively widespread in both of them. Second, they are located in different parts of Asia. On the one hand, they face similar challenges typical for the entire continent. On the other hand, substantial regional differences are present. Thus, they can be investigated, and corresponding conclusions and recommendations can be formulated. Third, these countries are subject to different social and economic factors. In particular, China demonstrates much higher rates of economic growth than Pakistan. It is necessary to examine whether it has any impact on the spread of child labor in both countries. The problem of child labor is very important for both countries. China utilizes children’s workforce for solving its short-term economic objectives, but the national government realizes that this state of affairs negatively affects the long-term economic perspectives of the country as well as leads to large-scale violations of children’s rights and liberties. The standards of living in Pakistan are very low, and the country is still unable to achieve any considerable improvements in this field. Although all experts and government officials recognize the problem of child labor in the country, they cannot develop any specific mechanism for solving it. The paper will specify the magnitude and causes of the problem in both countries.
The Magnitude of the Problem
The Pervasiveness of the Problem in Both Countries
The magnitude of the child labor problem is very considerable in both countries. Khalid and Shahnaz (2004) state that Asia experiences more serious problems with child labor in comparison with other regions of the world. Morley (2009) demonstrates that the number of children working in Asia constitutes around 61 percent of all children illegally employed worldwide. As the estimated number of employed children is 250 million, around 152.5 million of them are in Asia (Morley, 2009). The situation in China is very difficult in this context. According to different estimations, the number of child workers differs from 2 million and 3.5 million people (Liao and Hong, 2010). Although China has the largest population in the world, these numbers are still huge. They demonstrate that the scope of the problem is considerable and even affects the global economy.
Another problem associated with child labor in China refers to the fact that many children are not merely illegally employed, but have to fulfill especially dangerous jobs that directly threaten their lives and health. For example, around 126 million Chinese children participate in military combat forces and coal mining (Liao and Hong, 2010) and are subject to additional threats, which is inadmissible for any country in the 21st century. The problem of child labor in China exists for a very long time, but large public attention has become focused on this issue only recently.
Khalid and Shahnaz (2004) examine the state of child labor problems in Pakistan. They demonstrate that around 3.3 million children are regular workers; thus, the general number of workers is similar in both countries (Khalid and Shahnaz, 2004, p. 85). As developed countries are aware of this problem in Pakistan, they have introduced various export restrictions regarding Pakistani products. These restrictions are mostly concentrated in those spheres that almost exclusively employ children under the age of 15. Khan (2010) states that the majority of employed Pakistani children are illiterate (p. 126). It means that their future social and career opportunities are highly limited only to occupations that require physical labor.
A large fraction of Pakistani children shares the same problems as Chinese ones as they are also involved in difficult and dangerous job processes. In particular, Pakistani children constitute the major part of the workforce in various duties associated with the agricultural industry. They participate in crop production, fish farming, fetching water, crop storage, etc. (Kang, 2012, pp. 14-15). They have to work many hours per day (the specific amount varies among duties performed), and the working conditions are unsatisfactory. The main threats to children’s health are associated with the fact that they have to work with pesticides, carry heavy loads, and fulfill other dangerous tasks. It has substantial long-term negative effects on children including brain damage, cancer, and birth defects (Kang, 2012, p. 15). Pakistani children may be responsible for the whole set of operations that are usually fulfilled by adults (carrying livestock, pesticides’ spraying, etc).
Thus, the magnitude of the problem is significant in both countries. However, it seems that in order to assess its extent correctly, it is necessary to consider the percentage of the population involved in child labor rather than the absolute figures. The population of China is around 1.394 billion people while that of Pakistan is 185.1 million people (Worldometers, n.d.). The average number of children illegally employed in China according to the above-mentioned estimations is (2 + 3.5) / 2 = 2.75 million, and their number in Pakistan equals 3.3 million. The percentage of employed children in China equals to 2.75 / 1394 * 100% = 0.197%. The percentage of children working in Pakistan equals to 3.3 / 185.1 * 100% = 1.783%. Thus, the situation in Pakistan is much more difficult than in China because the percentage of the population involved in child labor is 1.783% / 0.197% = 9 times higher.
The existing situation is the result of a large number of structural factors that affect the economy and social sphere of both countries. In relation to China, the main structural factor is the development of the Chinese economy under the influence of globalization. Liao and Hong (2010) state that the major changes began in 1978 after China’s “open reform” policy. The national economy was rebuilt and became more open in the global context. Although China continued to follow its former socialist strategy, some free-market elements were introduced. The main factor contributing to the development of the Chinese economy was its export potential. The national government tried to encourage it with the help of all available methods.
As a result, the demand for labor substantially increased. Moreover, Chinese manufacturers were interested in minimizing costs and prices for their products. Consequently, numerous employers tended to rely even more actively on child labor. Although this problem existed before, its scope began to increase because children became oriented not only to domestic production but also to producing export goods. Moreover, the structure of the labor market was also disturbed. As a result, a large number of the cheap workforce was concentrated in some urban areas (Liao and Hong, 2010). As economic conditions were difficult, a large number of young workers voluntarily decided to begin working at the age of 15 or even before. Morley (2009) points out that some cultural factors also created problems for children in their endeavors to attend schools and receive an education. Children have to be on the streets and search for employment opportunities.
Khan (2010) explains that the problems with child labor in Pakistan are caused by supply and demand factors. The major supply-side factors include poverty, HIV/AIDS, and attitudes toward girls (Khan, 2010, p. 122). Children from low-income families do not have a choice and have to enter the labor market earlier. Girls are also often discriminated against in Pakistan due to the influence of traditions and religion. As a result, they are not typically admitted to obtaining education even if their financial state is satisfactory. They have only two alternatives: either an early marriage or entering the labor market. There are also several demand-side factors. They include low expenses, children’s obedience, ineffective role, and the role of education (Khan, 2010, p. 123). Those children who have not received the necessary education typically do not have other alternatives except for entering the labor market.
In general, structural factors are different in both countries. The problem in China is closely associated with its economic strategy and the government’s desire to maximize the country’s international position with the help of promoting national export. As a result, the demand for labor substantially exceeds its supply from Chinese adults. As producers do not want to increase wages, they tend to reorient to child labor. Thus, Chinese children are mostly employed in various manufacture sectors. The situation in Pakistan is completely different. The country is not involved in exporting goods to such a degree as China. However, economic conditions are still unsatisfactory. Children have to be employed in the agricultural sector to overcome poverty. Moreover, the existing discrimination of girls also contributes to the rise of the problem.
Efforts Made to Reduce the Scope of the Problem
Steps Taken by Governments and NGOs
Both countries and their governments realize that the situation is highly unsatisfactory. The major negative implications are as follows.
- First, countries may experience substantial economic problems in the future. As one of the main factors that affect the rate of economic growth is the productivity of labor, a high level of education is crucial for increasing one’s productivity and improving one’s skills.
- Second, all modern countries (even undeveloped democracies) realize that people’s rights and liberties should be respected. The fact of violating children’s rights cannot be tolerated under any conditions.
- Third, the international reputation of a country plays an important role in the modern world. The existence of child labor negatively affects strategic positions in national governments. It is especially important for China as the country aims to become one of the major economic centers in the world.
The Chinese government realized the seriousness of the problem in the middle of the 1980s when it became evident that the economic expansion and reliance on the increase of exports led to the spread of child labor in all major segments of the national economy. The main laws in this sphere were adopted at the beginning of the 1990s. They included Regulations Forbidding Child Labor (1991), Protection of Minors (1991), and the Law on Labor (1994) (Liao and Hong, 2010, p. 570). Although these laws were not perfect, they declared the position of the government that children under the age of 16 are not allowed to be employed.
The major problems emerged at the stage of the implementation of these regulations. Although all major employers were aware of these regulations, there was no specific mechanism ensuring their realization. As the use of child labor was efficient and beneficial from an economic perspective, the majority of companies continued to rely on illegal activities. Chinese NGOs recognized the problem and tried to achieve positive changes and promote the implementation of the necessary reforms. However, they could not organize any independent operations due to their high dependence on the central government. Therefore, the situation remains comparatively stable in this regard. Any positive changes are possible only under the pressure of international NGOs.
The Pakistani government has also introduced some broad regulations regarding child labor (Khalid and Shahnaz, 2004). However, they were unspecific and ineffective. Even the age limit for child labor was not specified. In general, it seems that the Pakistani government does not direct sufficient resources towards the solution of this problem. At the same time, there is also a lack of effective alternatives for the solution of the problem. The reason is that any effective reforms require corresponding financial funds and other economic resources. However, the level of economic development in Pakistan is very low. Moreover, the economy is comparatively closed (even in comparison with other developing countries such as China). As a result, the rates of economic growth are very low, and the national government cannot accumulate the necessary funds.
The role of NGOs in this process is low in both countries. The social life in Pakistan is neither open nor free. NGOs do not have any considerable impact on the dynamics of regulations and their implementation in various economic and social segments. Positive changes can be achieved with the help of the Western and international NGOs. However, they do not typically comprehend the important religious and cultural aspects of Pakistani people (Kang, 2012). For this reason, their recommendations are not adjusted to the local social and cultural conditions. It makes the situation in Pakistan even more problematic than in China.
Positive and Negative Consequences of Implemented Measures
It is reasonable to examine the positive and negative consequences of the implemented measures in both countries in more detail. First, it is necessary to compare the consequences of measures in the legal sphere. China has achieved some success in the implementation of its policies although the scope of the problem is still considerable. The major achievement in the sphere of legal regulations refers to the fact that this problem is officially recognized by the Chinese government. The age limit of 16 years is officially established (Liao and Hong, 2010). There are no such achievements in Pakistan as the national government formally recognizes the existence of the problem, but any specific legal requirements are absent.
There are substantial negative consequents that exist in both countries in relation to the existing legal regulations. The major common problem is that these regulations are not strictly followed. Employers in both countries have opportunities to avoid responsibility and thus continue utilizing child labor. There is no specific mechanism for controlling the implementation of the regulations. Moreover, the underlying economic forces in both countries create a demand for child labor. Chinese manufacturers continue their market expansion by increasing the number of people employed. The agricultural sector in Pakistan is labor-intensive, and producers do not have any incentive to introduce innovative and capital-intensive technologies.
Second, it is reasonable to examine interrelationships between various socio-economic and cultural factors that exist in these countries. It will allow outlining the major strengths and weaknesses of the current government and NGOs’ strategies in both countries. The factors relevant to child labor in China are presented in Fig. 1 (Liao and Hong, 2010, p. 568).
Although the current reforms cannot change the historical background, they affect the general economic dynamics of the country. On the one hand, the growing demand for the workforce contributes to the spread of child labor (at least in the short run). On the other hand, the experienced economic growth contains a number of secondary positive consequences related to increasing standards of living in the country. Moreover, the country’s one-child policy also restricts the supply of child labor. As a result, the government can control the issues associated with child labor more effectively.
The existing Chinese culture does not oppose any forms of child labor as it is considered as being in accordance with the national traditions. However, the growing economic standards allow adjusting the state of people’s rights proportionally. Thus, given the existing tendency, it may be expected that the situation will improve in the near future. The government and public perceptions are such that the majority of people realize the necessity to change the existing situation. The problem of lack of education tends to improve, and inadequate schooling becomes less widespread in the country (Liao and Hong, 2010). As economic growth is present, the problem of family’s underinvestment becomes less severe.
In relation to Pakistan, the situation is more problematic. The negative consequences are much more substantial than the positive ones. In particular, inadequate laws do not create any favorable conditions for implementing reforms. Pakistani employers prefer child labor as these young workers are cheap and obedient. The structure of Pakistani children’s wages is presented in Table 1 (Khalid and Shahnaz, 2004, p. 95).
|Wages (in rupees)||Working Children|
|Up to 1,000||57.58%|
|4,000 and above||1.33%|
The structure of children’s wages clearly demonstrates that the vast majority of children in Pakistan earn very small wages. It means that employers hire them in order to reduce their costs of production. They are interested in continuing their labor-intensive forms of production, especially in the agricultural sector. Any government’s attempts to change the existing state of affairs were unsuccessful.
Prediction for the Dynamics of the Problem
On the basis of the existing tendencies, it is possible to construct the most realistic scenario regarding the dynamics of the problem of child labor in both countries in the next ten years. It is necessary to take into consideration all relevant factors including the rates of economic growth, cultural perception, and social issues. It may be expected that the current rates of economic growth in China will be observed in the near future. Even if they decline in comparison with the current level, they will still be much higher than the average level of global economic growth. As a result, the level of poverty in China will considerably decline in the next ten years. Thus, children and their parents will oppose all forms of child labor more actively.
The economy of Pakistan will also continue its development in accordance with the current tendency. It means that the country will either experience stagnation or a very slow economic growth. In any case, all major sectors of its economy will remain labor-intensive. Therefore, both employers and children will continue to rely on the current system.
Another factor that will contribute to this scenario is the demographic dynamics in both countries. The existing child policy in China will lead to a situation when the fraction of children in the overall structure of the population will decline. It means that child labor will become scarcer. It will become more problematic for employers to hire children. As child labor is also associated with legal risks, it seems that the scope of the problem will narrow in China.
The demographic situation in Pakistan will change differently. The fraction of children in the structure of the population will not decline. On the contrary, it is possible that it will increase. As a result, the supply of child labor will be very high. It will create an opportunity for Pakistani employers to rely on child labor even more intensely than before. The level of wages may become stable and low.
Another relevant factor affecting the state of the problem during the next ten years is the involvement of both countries in globalization. It is evident that China will remain much more globalized in comparison with Pakistan. Moreover, the gap between the two countries will increase because China is likely to become the most powerful economic country in the world. As Pakistan does not demonstrate the necessary willingness to be integrated into the global economic system, only some of its industries will remain export-oriented. All international sanctions and export restrictions regarding the products made with the help of child labor will not be able to radically change the existing situation.
China is likely to reduce the rate of child labor by 40 percent during the next ten years due to its economic development and corresponding social and economic reforms. As the current rate equals to 0.197% of the total Chinese population, it may be equal to around (1–0.4) * 0.197% = 0.118% in 2025. The expected dynamics in Pakistan is the opposite. The country continues to be isolated from others; its rates of economic growth are low, and the structural problems are likely to remain in the near future. It seems that the rate of child labor may increase by around 20 percent due to the growing population and the existing economic problems. As the current rate is equal to 1.783%, it may become equal to 1.2 * 1.783% = 2.140% in ten years. The current gap between China and Pakistan is 9 times while it may become equal to 2.140% / 0.118% = 18 times in ten years. Thus, the situation with child labor may steadily improve in China during the next ten years while it may considerably deteriorate in Pakistan.
It may be concluded that the problem of child labor is one of the most serious social problems for the entire world. Although the majority of developed countries have successfully solved it, it still remains the burning issue in a large number of Asian countries. The analysis of this social problem in China and Pakistan demonstrates both considerable similarities and differences. The major similarities are as follows.
- First, the magnitude of the problem is very significant. The number of children involved in illegal employment is around 3 million people in each country. However, the current rates of child labor involvement are drastically different (this difference is equal to 9 times or 900 percent at the moment).
- Second, both governments recognize (at least formally) this problem and develop some responsive strategies.
- Third, the role of NGOs in both countries is low because they are not politically and economically dependent.
However, there are also considerable differences.
- First, China experiences a considerable rate of economic growth while Pakistan’s standards of ling are stable and very low.
- Second, the actions of the Chinese government are more effective as it has created the necessary environment for the legal definition of child labor (with the corresponding age limit of 16 years) as well as has enacted several effective legal documents in this sphere. The actions of the Pakistani government were ineffective and incoherent.
- Third, it may be expected that the development of this problem in both countries during the next ten years will be the opposite. It seems that China will be able to alleviate this problem and decrease the level of children’s involvement in illegal employment. The absence of reforms in Pakistan will probably lead to the worsening of the situation in this sphere.