Monday, September 3, 2007
The China Labour Bulletin, Han Dongfang's Hong Kong-based NGO, has just issued an English-language report on child labor in China. It is a revised and updated version of a Chinese-language report issued last year.
Given the current almost toxic zeitgeist about all things Chinese (at least inside the Beltway, where I live), it's important to stress that the CLB is a serious organization that produces high-quality and credible work. This is not just more China-bashing. Indeed, the report acknowledges the complexity of the issue at the very beginning:
Child labour in any society poses a complex challenge, one simultaneously ethical, legal and economic in nature, and China is no exception to this rule. The income generated by underage workers is often critical to a family’s overall livelihood, especially in the poorer rural areas from where most such workers originate, and so identifying “culprits” who can be suitably punished under the law is not always the best way to proceed. Indeed, except in the most egregious of cases,6 the sternly punitive approach may even be counterproductive, both by forcing this sector of the economy further underground and by pushing underprivileged families – and hence the children themselves – deeper into hardship and poverty.