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Child Labour in Malawi

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2213 words Published: 25th May 2017

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Theories of child labour rely on the universal concept of a child and a set age limit of responsibility and working life, however in many developing countries this concept does not exist or cannot exist because of poverty and lack of education.. Work can also not be limited to paid employment, as many children often help out in domestic work at home, a phenomenon not limited to the developing world, as it can be seen in the responsibilities of children who are carers in the UK. So with the differences in the social aspects between the countries in the developed and developing worlds, can we apply the theories of development, modernisation and dependency to the concept of child labour in the Malawi province when it is a largely western construct- this paper will discuss child labour in relation to these theories and attempt to draw conclusions on the notion of child labour in a developing countries.

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A child according to UNCIEF is a person under the age of 18 years and the convention states that international law that state parties must maintain that all children benefit from special protection measures and assistance (www.unicief.org). It goes on to state that a child must have access to education and health care and must be knowledgeable about and contribute to the process of attaining their rights. Conversely, the notion of a child is a challenging one according to James et al, in their book Constructing and Reconstruction Childhood, the writers go on to state how childhood is a social construction, and has different forms in different societies. (Prout et al, 1967).

This view is in contrast to that of the western notion of child that appears to adopt the blanket view of the child and one size fits all. Children globally should be protected and remain in the family unit until they reach the age of 18years. It does not however allow for different cultural approach, or whether a child contributes to the household due to poverty, or indeed the child needs to fund their education (Leonard, 2009).

To define a child is a difficult and emotive issue, and definitions and norms surrounding childhood vary over time and place, and within developing societies the move from childhood to adulthood may not be based on age (Johnson, 2012).

According to the University of Malawi Centre for Social Research child labour has existed in Malawi for a long time. It goes on to state that it part of the Malawian culture to have children assist their parents in the home, and it was not until the late 1890s that child labour formalised (University of Malawi).

In developing countries such as Malawi children are integrated into the household economy at an early age, where according to the International Labour Orginastition where 93.7% of girls and 90% of boys between the ages of 5-14 are unpaid family workers. Paid labour is 3.8% for girls and 4.7% for boys, self-employed is 2.6% for girls and 5.3% for boys (www.ilo.org).

In to White’s consortium the writer argues that cultural doctrine in relation to child work appears to be a more general issue when it is raised on the international level of debate. White goes on to say that ethical issues are raised, and he raises the question as to whether the rights of different cultures should be recognised when debating child labour (white, 1999).

The discussion continues in White’s paper where globalisation is concerned and takes the form of international debates regarding taking the child labour subject across borders, cultures and political worlds (Kent, 1995: 80). This according to White results in a debate that will never be resolved (Alston, 1994: 16).

White believes that with regard to universalism of which he states there are three; cultural relativism that cultures cannot be compared, resulting in according to White cultures that can only be understood in their own terms. The second is cultural relativism as an ethical and political belief, in that culture is immune from critism from outsiders. White’s third cultural relativism pertains to developed world’s view of developing world and how we need to learn and observe and not change (White, Ben. 1999). This would tie in with the notion that west is not always best where the majority countries are concerned.

The western notion could be misunderstood an issue raised by Leonard when she notes that children work in many types of work in developing or majority world countries and it’s the minority that work in the production of goods for the global market (Leonard, 2009). The estimate of child work involved in family based work is 70% (O’Donnell et al. 2002). Leonard also argues that targeting child labour will categorises all child work and has a negative effect on the economics of the child and their nation state (Leonard, 2009). This further the debate on White’s third cultural relativism and the need to learn and respect for different cultures and to understand what other cultures define as child work as opposed to child labour and how western notions are not the best way to future development (White, 1999).

In the now developed countries of the world millions of children once worked in mines, mills agriculture and on the streets, often in similar conditions to that of today’s developing world, but yet the developed countries took several generations to address the issue of child labour according to Hindman. (Hindmand, 2009). It is this western notion of childhood that is imposed on the now developing countries that are sometimes viewed as deviant or backward when they don’t adapt the ‘west is best’ approach to childhood.

It is this western notion of development that Frank argues developing countries could never adopt as developed countries have never experienced colonialism. He goes on to argue that many countries such as China and India were quite advanced before they were colonised in the eighteenth century how a peripheral account of development for developing countries would be that the deviancy of developing countries cannot be explained feudalism of traditionalism ( Frank, 1967:1969).

It is according to Frank past experience of colonialism and domination that have reversed the development of what he term ‘advanced’ developing countries and forced them to become economically regressive, and he terms this the ‘development’ of ‘underdevelopment’ this he writes signifies as unnatural and was created by historical colonialism (Frank, 1967: 1969).

Defining development according to storey, 2009 was for many years straightforward and was seen as equivalent to economic growth of which Gross National Product (GNP) was used as the main indicator and is used in determining the individual total or per capita. This equation is used to determine the development or under development of a country (Storey, 2009).

Social scientists Walt Rostow developed the idea that growth consists of five stages in which developing countries moved from traditional society to an age of high mass consumption. But the concept of growth without development came into question in the 1960s and 1970s (Storey, 2009).

It was not until 1990 that Human Development Index (HDI) was introduced to accurately measure whether people were better off in terms of health, freedom, education and other aspects of life that were not measured by Gross National Product (GDP). Human Development Index was an alternative to Gross National Product; it does not however include the cultural features that make up a society (Lopez, 2009).

There have been critism of HDI no more so than Storey when he states how the Human Development Index is extremely motivated by Western notions (Sen. 1981).

Developing countries according to Frank 1990 became a urbanised western areas that are drained of their natural resources. This was prevalent as a result of colonialism and according to Baran 1957 India was at the fore of development in the world in the eighteen century. Their economy was seen as comparatively progressive and their production was the best in the world (Baran, 1957).

The policies forced onto India were to result in India becoming dutiful to Britain and resulting in India becoming dependant on Britain and moving backwards from a moderately progressive industrial nation to a regressive agricultural nation (Baran, 1957)

According to Frank this was a dependency theory with regard to international capitalism, and resulted in the division of labour that was responsible for the underdevelopment of many countries. The division of labour is the reason for poverty and capitalism regards the division of labour as essential when it comes to the distribution of resources (Frank, 1967).

In 1963 an agreement was reached between European Community and its former colonies to address the underdevelopment of the former colonies and to contribute to a equally useful trading scheme with a range of trading measures. But in 1986 the European Union repositioned itself with regard to global economic position. This was followed by the Maastricht Treaty (1992) saw policy changes to include the smooth and slow incorporation of developing countries world into the world economy, this saw the change in the method in which governments approached support and trading treaties, this according to Mc Cann lead to a more globalising focus on the type of help that developing countries would receive. Mc Cann believes that the EU has the capacity and the financial means to give more help to developing countries. But he notes that after 50 years after the first help from the EU under the Treaty of Rome, developing countries continue to experience social and economic marginalisation, and these further impacts on the poorest and most helpless in developing countries (Mc Cann, 2009).

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The overseas Development Institute briefing paper for 1973 state that the International Munirity Fund (IMF) has become more interested a better balance between supply-side and demand-management, and the progress of economic growth within the said nation. It goes on to say how the IMF insist on reforming info-structure to encourage growth in the economy and this results in cuts to education and hospital which impact directly on children who may as a result of these measures need to work to help their family or themselves (www.odi.org.uk).

In an International Monetary Fund (IMF) working paper by de Carvalho Filho 2008, on Household Income Determinant on Income on Child Labour and School Enrolment. The discussion focuses on household income as a problem where child labour and school enrolment is concerned. This plays back to the need for children to work as opposed attending school. It goes on to note the importance of policies that will improve the human capital of poor children and cut inequality in developing countries (www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2008/wp08241.pdf).

The paper does not however focus on the determination of the IMF to ensure that the country seeking aid is required to restructure and to cut spending in order to get financial help from IMF in the first instance. According to Aide Internationale Pour L’enfance a nongovernmental organisation, the IMF contribute to child labour when they insist that countries severely indebted to them reduce their spending on education and healthcare increasing poverty and child labour www.aipe-cci.org/en/en-index.html .

World Bank Global Child Labour Program was established in 2003 to research child poverty, and to actively address child labour within its lending and non-lending procedures. Another topic within this programme is for the World Bank Organisation to enable greater support between multilateral agencies (www.worldbank.org).

In Malawi according to the World Bank Oginasation has a poverty level of 67.34% the WBO plans to transform Malawi form being an importing and consuming economy to a mainly manufacturing and exporting one (www.worldbank.org). Malawi gained its independence from colomlism in 1962, with a history of corruption and high interest loans it is according to an article in the economy watch dated 9th April 2010,one of the poorest countries in the world. It relays mainly on agriculture and its main crop it tobacco that employs a high percentage of children, and has been criticised by the International Labour Organisation for its use of child labour with some children as young as 11 years working sorting tobacco leave ( www.economywatch). .

Tabaco growers are worried as the World Health Organisation Agreement on tobacco that will see governments move their economies away from tobacco growing, leaving the poorest vauranable and unsure of what crop they can grow to sell on the world market (www.bbcnew.co).

Malawi gets significant financial aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank. The drive to reduce loans has led to server economic policies being implanted by the current government that has imposed severe hardship on the poorest of Malawi


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