When Children Work

Last week, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrinch made a comment during an appearance at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Business that was picked up by the media: “child laws […] are truly stupid”. Speaking about poverty and inequality in American society, Mr. Gingrich explained that he favoured easing labour laws that prevented teens from working.

Requiring children to go to school until a certain age, limiting the number of hours they can work each day and the age at which they can start working are generally believed to be valuable from a social and moral standpoint. It may be easy to dismiss Mr. Gingrich’s comments, but no one country is perfect: it is certainly interesting to note that Canada has not escaped criticism regarding its own child labour laws. For example, author Joel Bakan wrote a commentary in the Globe and Mail this past fall entitled “B.C.’s child labour laws are the most neglectful in the world”. In some provinces, children as young as 12 years old are permitted to work with parental authorization. 

While Mr. Gingrich focuses on the value he sees in allowing teens to work, let’s not forget that countless other issues arise when children are permitted to work at a young age: higher risks of workplace injuries, young employees who do not know their legal rights, the challenge of balancing school and work. Maybe child labour laws aren’t all that stupid.

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