Working Children

O'Dell, Lindsay; Crafter, Sarah; de Abreu, Guida and Cline, Tony (2018). Working Children. In: O'Dell, Lindsay; Brownlow, Charlotte and Bertilsdotter-Rosqvist, Hanna eds. Different Childhoods: Non/Normative Development and Transgressive Trajectories. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 119–131.




In this chapter we discuss children’s engagement in work and how normative understandings of childhood as a time for play, formal schooling and socialisation play out in debates about, and experiences of, child workers. Ideas about children’s development, taken up in national and international policy frame debate about working children, distinguishing between work and school, with the view that work is very much at the limits, or margins, of normative childhood.

Debates about whether children should work, or not, draw upon particular ideas about childhood, as distinct from adulthood and as a period of vulnerability that requires adult protection, or at least supervision (see Crafter et al. 2009; Burman, 2008). From this perspective child workers are constructed as in need of protection. We discuss how children’s engagement in work is constructed, in particular the distinction made in much of the literature, and in policy and practice, between labour and work, childhood and adulthood, and between the global north and south. The chapter focuses on how dominant constructions of the developing child (drawn largely from the global north) make particular assumptions about the kind of work children should, if at all, be engaging in. The chapter also interrogates the assumption that ‘work’ is paid activity that takes place outside the home through a discussion of children who are young carers to family members. The symbolic, and actual, limits of childhood are played out in public debate and legislation internationally about the role of work, including care work, in children’s lives.

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