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The issue of child labor is directly associated with a discussion of the population and economic progress in less-developed countries. In her article “Long Hours, Meager Wages: Child Labor Continues in Myanmar,” Roxana Saberi discusses the problem of child labor in Myanmar. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the key points of the article and provide the economic analysis of the issue presented in Saberi’s article with the focus on major economic models related to the problem.
Saberi’s article is focused on discussing the aspects of child labor in Yangon, Myanmar, with reference to the problem’s roots, its details, and possible ways to address the issue. The author discusses the problem of child labor in this less-developed country in the context of presenting the story of Soe Min Lwin, a 12-year-old boy who works at a tea shop in Yangon. Soe Min Lwin works “every day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” and his wage is about one dollar a day (Saberi). The boy has an opportunity to attend classes only for six hours a week.
As it is stated in the article, the boy’s employer does not regard child labor as an inappropriate practice because this child is the main breadwinner in his family, and such employment provides children with opportunities not only to earn but also to eat at their workplace. Thus, according to Saberi, children in Myanmar are viewed as the “pillars of Myanmar’s economy, with many working as housecleaners, factory hands and shop assistants,” and this practice is discussed as normal in these social environments.
The recent economic changes in the country are associated with the development of cities, and many children move from rural territories to urban areas in order to find work and support their families. Poverty is typical of this country’s population; therefore, it is also possible to find brokers who assist employers in hiring children while believing that jobs are important for these children to help them survive (Saberi).
As a result, about 30% of children in the country are employed (Saberi). Furthermore, in spite of authorities’ efforts to stop this practice, the laws are not effectively enforced in the country, and the attempts to address child labor can have negative social consequences. Thus, according to Saberi, many American companies operating in the country are against hiring children, but leaders doubt the consequences of firing children for their families. Furthermore, in many cases, there are no possibilities for these companies to focus on due diligence and check employment in the entire supply chain.
Child labor is the reality for many less-developed countries, including Myanmar, because of economic advantages available to employers who cannot provide potential employees with all required conditions and appropriate wages. Furthermore, the extreme poverty in the country makes families use all opportunities to employ family members in order to increase their income. Therefore, the first important point to analyze is the connection between the socio-economic status of families, poverty, children’s education in less-developed countries, and child labor.
As it is stated in the article, the recent economic changes in the country have created more opportunities to employ children in the service sector in urban areas (Saberi). The problem is that these positions are often not provided officially, and the proposed wages are low. Therefore, employers choose to hire children, and their parents do not oppose this practice because of the impossibility to earn enough money. Beegle et al. explain the phenomenon of sending children to work while stating that “child labor is associated with an increased likelihood of wage work, which is itself linked with higher living standards” (887). Thus, for many families in Myanmar, child labor can be viewed as the only chance to improve their financial state.
Researchers pay attention to a certain vicious circle associated with the problem: less-developed countries have no resources to improve their economies because of the overall low level of education and progress in them; children are limited in their opportunities to attend classes and receive an education because of poverty; the lack of education for children contributes to developing poverty in a country (Beegle et al. 875; Gertler 336). Thus, according to Beegle et al., the increase in child labor is correlated with the decrease in school attendance and children’s education, and this aspect negatively affects the socio-economic situation in the country (875).
As it is noted by Gertler, “children from poor families begin life at a distinct disadvantage,” and their health and education are poorer in comparison to other children (336). Thus, the living conditions of these young persons can force them to find jobs and support their families. In spite of the fact that some business owners in Myanmar can be interested in providing education and training for young locals, these initiatives are discussed only at the governmental level (Saberi). According to Gertler, such programs oriented to providing children from less-developed countries with education, health care, and training can be effective to contribute to improving the situation in these countries (340).
Another point to discuss is the migration of children from rural areas to urban ones in order to find jobs. According to Saberi, there is a tendency in Myanmar to employ children from rural territories because of the lack of jobs in villages. The rural-urban migration is actively discussed by Nafziger in his work, and the reason is the active industrialization in cities (303).
While referring to the case of Myanmar and the discussed article, it is possible to note that, in this context, the reason is the development of the service sector and increases in the income of some proportion of the country’s population (Saberi). To explain this tendency, it is possible to apply the economic model of migration developed by John Harris and Michael Todaro. According to the Harris-Todaro model, employees migrate because of their desire to receive higher wages; thus, they expect to earn more in cities (Nafziger 304). While discussing the situation in Myanmar in the context of this model, it is possible to state that young employees and their families expect that there are more jobs in cities and the proposed wages are appropriate to support families.
In the article by Saberi, Myanmar is presented as an example of a country where child labor is a problem that requires its solution at the governmental and other levels. Thus, in spite of the fact that American companies are ready to oppose the practice of employing children in this less-developed country, there are no guarantees that their partners and suppliers do not hire children. The problem is that the laws against child labor cannot be effectively enforced in this context, and the practice of hiring children is viewed as normal in the country with high rates of poverty and unemployment.
Beegle, Kathleen, et al. “Why Should We Care about Child Labor? The Education, Labor Market, and Health Consequences of Child Labor.” Journal of Human Resources, vol. 44, no. 4, 2009, pp. 871-889.
Gertler, Paul. “Do Conditional Cash Transfers Improve Child Health? Evidence from PROGRESA’s Control Randomized Experiment.” The American Economic Review, vol. 94, no. 2, 2004, pp. 336-341.
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Nafziger, Wayne E. Economic Development. 5th ed., Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Saberi, Roxana. “Long Hours, Meager Wages: Child Labor Continues in Myanmar.” Al Jazeera America, 2015.