Child Labor

Child labor and the role of Cultural Norms and Values: 

The analysis of child labor and its understanding is compulsory from the views and prevalent traditions of the locality.

In most of the developing countries including Pakistan, the social and cultural environment is playing a dominant role in increase or decrease of child labor.

There are various approaches and views constructed around childhood and according to Roland P,. and Mijke H, (2006), the concept of childhood as a phase separate from adulthood in which children “need to be protected, nurtured and educated” has mainly been constructed by Western societies. However, such views vary from culture to culture and area to area and such social construct make variation in the development of different persona (Fares, and Dhushyanth, 2007). 

Besides, there are similarities with regard to role attainment of the child and their parental looking after towards their upbringing.There are even more strange perception found in the world regarding child orientation and work related issues.

In many developing countries, it is popular notion and social accepted norm that child labor, child work and other economic related issues does not contribute negatively in the development of a child. While it has been observed from secondary sources that working of children in the labor market have valuable contributions towards child growth and professional grooming, making them a responsible citizen (Bachman, S. L., 2000,).

Similarly, according to Anker, (2000), many changes have been there in the form and structure of child labor due to technological advances and globalization and still in much social and cultural aspect child work is not treated as hazardous to the child’s development, it can even be in the child’s interest while such labor is the main sources to contribute in family’s income, making children decision-maker at home and in outside the social world (Bachman, 2000, and Anker, 2000). 

In many societies, it is social value that all members shall contribute towards family economy and the role and division of labor favour both children and adults to perform certain task (Cristina, 1994 and Naz, 2011).

In many of the traditional social structures, children are treated traditionally and are put to labor according to the given environment i.e. in agriculture work, poultry, animal husbandry etc (UNICIF, 2012). Besides, in traditional manner, a male child is best for work outside the house while a female child shall perform role within the domestic domain (Khan, 2012). In a study conducted in Guatemala, the act of child labor is mainly rooted in the traditional values (Najeeb, S. Harry and Patrinos., 2008) and culturally it is believed that child labor is considered as a form of education through which children are instructed in the work and responsibilities of an adult (Ramírez, Pablo W., Miriam de Celada, Erwin Díaz, and Ada Cáceres (2000). Similarly, in many countries, it is a social values and normatively accepted behavior to send a child for plantation farms, agriculture fields, sowing and reaping in the field or care for heard (Quiroz, 2008b).

Besides, for parents in many societies, sharing working beliefs with children is a cultural duty to keep the children busy and to make them responsible adults (Delap, 2001).  Studies also indicate that many of the parents in traditional societies and even in the modern setting do not allow their children to sit idle. Traditionally, fear of idleness is another reason why parents are inclined to send their children to work (Quiroz, L., 2008b and Delap, 2001). Similarly, the economic dependency, increase in unemployment ratio, large family size further stresses upon parents to send their kind to have labor and earn money for family survival (Dehejia, and Roberta, 2005). Thus, the social and cultural norms, traditional social structure with large population, poverty and illiteracy of the masses are few of the reasons that allow parents to send their children in the labor market.With regard to the current study, the research community posses and have its own social and cultural structure.

The area is mainly dominated by traditionalism where majority of the subject respondents were of the opinion that the lives of the people are governed by the normative and traditional values of Pakhtun social structure.

Pakhtunwali dominates the lives and thus it is believe that a child shall respect and obey the order of the elder and shall work with them in the field, market and any place they deserve. Similarly, the field information provides details about the family structure and majority of the population is living in joint families. Besides, the number of people or person in the household remains large and thus mostly is dependent on the earning of many hands in the family.

The information further analyzes the income level and education of the area and most of the people have no such visible position in economic assets while those who earn some money could not afford family expenses. There are many dependent members in a family and even female have to work hard to support their household.

Further, the literacy ratio is very low which further have impacts upon the increase in ratio of child work or labor. It is believed among the research community that sending a child to the labor market is much better than to spend many years on getting education.

Similarly, the major portion of the respondents belonged to agriculture economy, working in field of the rich people. Hence, during time of harvest and reaping, they strongly need the help of many hands, particularly of children.

Thus, children are socially and culturally responsible to work in field and other areas.Many of the cases were found during interview among the children that they are busy both at home and in the workshop.

Even some time, they can’t decide what to opt for work and which shall be the priority at first. Majority of the children were found busy in doing multiple activities in a day i.e. work in mechanical workshop, bringing various vehicles, to clean as well as to give services to the elder (owner of the workshop) along-with helping their parents at home. Such kind schedule rigorously involves them to work for more than 15 hours a day which is socially and legally not acceptable.

In this context, one of the interviews noted in the field can best describe the actual situation. The respondent was thoroughly asked about the various social and cultural norms, his schedule and activities in a single day and the summary is given here:It is our familial and cultural norm to act according to the order issued by our elders. Our family system is joint one and there are some 11 members living in a small rented house.

My three elder bother are working in different area i.e. one is a tailor, the other work on fixed pay at a shop while the elder is helping my father in fields and family matters.

All of us are busy in different jobs from morning till evening i.e. I wake up early in the morning and bring milk and other daily item from the bazaar. After my breakfast, I help mother in various activities and then come to the mechanical workshop.

Here I am busy in various task including bringing different material and items, washing and cleaning of parts of engine, vehicles, service etc and sometime to pay visits to the house of owner to bring items of daily use from the bazaar. I am also in touch with my father and brother in the filed and providing services when needed to them. Many time, I came across with work for more than 15 hours a day and even on a single holiday I have no spare time to play with friends …(extract from an interview).        

Atif khattak

Project Coordinator


Alif Ailaan  Pakistan 


January 15, 2015 at 12pm - 4pm
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