History Repeats Itself: Child Labor in Latin America

  • Carolyn Tuttle
Original Paper


Child labor occurs on almost every continent in the world. Very few countries seem to escape this exploitative phase as they develop into fully industrialized countries. Child labor began during the eighteenth century in Great Britain and it continues in the twenty-first century in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Honduras. This paper offers an explanation for the persistence of child labor through history. The increase in the employment of children during industrialization is caused by an increase in the supply of children from poor and working-class families and an increase in the demand for child labor by the factory owners. Parents trapped in poverty have no other choice but to send their children off to work to contribute to the family income. Children’s wages, moreover, often make the difference between starvation and survival. Employers are happy to oblige the parents because children are more productive than adults in the new industrial regimen. As the principle of the division of labor has been applied to the production process, unskilled children replace skilled adults in factories, mills, and mines. Children are preferred to adults because they are cheap, submissive, uneducated and nimble. These economic forces are so strong that neither child labor laws nor mandatory schooling legislation are an effective deterrent against employers or families. Since history is repeating itself in the developing world by industrializing on the backs of children, alternative policies are recommend to cut this stage short so that the future generations of Latin America will become educated instead of exploited.


Child labor Children Industrialization Great Britain United States Latin America Economic development Exploitation 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and BusinessLake Forest CollegeLake ForestUSA

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