Child Labor: A Review

54 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2016

See all articles by Christian Grootaert

Christian Grootaert

World Bank - Social Development

Ravi Kanbur

Cornell University; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Date Written: May 1995


Legislation against child labor, even if it could be enforced, is not the only (or even the best) way to tackle the issue. Child labor legislation must be combined with targeted social and economic incentives (such as for schooling) together with equitable economic growth.

On September 30, 1990, the first World Summit for Children promised to reduce child mortality and malnutrition. It set targets to be reached by the year 2000. Although it established no explicit goals on child labor, the targets included basic education for all children and the completion of primary education by at least 80 percent of children. Meeting these goals will reduce child labor, say Grootaert and Kanbur.

The evidence they review shows that education interventions play a key role in reducing child labor and should play a key role in its eventual abolition. But other interventions are also needed, including legislative action, appropriate labor market policies, fertility interventions, the adoption of technology, and better job opportunities for parents. There must also be advocates for better conditions for working children and for the empowerment of children and their families.

An encouraging consensus is emerging - both in the literature and in the policies of international agencies concerned with child labor - that action, to be effective, must aim first to protect children and improve their living and working conditions. This implies a less stigmatized view of child labor, and the recognition that child labor itself can be used as a targeting device to help children through health, nutrition, schooling, and other interventions. In the long term, the objective of eliminating child labor must be approached through legislative action combined with social and economic incentives that take into account not only the types of child labor and child labor arrangements in a country but that country's institutional and administrative capacity.

This paper - a product of the Office of the Vice President, Development Economics - is one in a series of background papers prepared for World Development Report 1995 on labor.

Suggested Citation

Grootaert, Christian and Kanbur, Ravi, Child Labor: A Review (May 1995). Available at SSRN:

Christian Grootaert (Contact Author)

World Bank - Social Development ( email )

Washington, DC 20433
United States

Ravi Kanbur

Cornell University ( email )

301-J Warren Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
607-255-7966 (Phone)
607-255-9984 (Fax)


Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

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