Virtual Voices

In support of child labor

Economy

A WORLDmag.com commenter called me "one of the most ardent defenders of sweatshop labor." Yes, I am. I am proud of it. I'll tell you something more-I also ardently support child labor. Not because I care for the poor children any less than you do. I support sweatshops and child labor as a Christian as well as an economist. Why do you oppose these practices? Are you unaware that at the time of your own grandparents' grandparents most American children worked longer hours at harder jobs than the children who make your shoes and shirts in Bangladesh and Honduras today?

When Great Britain became the wealthiest nation of the world in mid-19th century, more than a third of the English boys ages 10 to 14 were "gainfully employed"-often for more than 60 hours per week, without health insurance or any vacation time. Today less than one of three African boys and just one out of six Indian boys are finding such gainful employment desirable and available to them. The more these economies grow, the more parents withdraw their children from the labor force.

Your opposition to sweatshops puzzles my colleagues in the developing world. They call you "ignorant and clueless" (see video clip below). Blinded by your prosperity you want to force upon Third World people our First World environmental and labor standards. You mean well but you produce starvation. Your efforts sabotage the road for poor parents to rise above subsistence and you force more children to engage in crime and prostitution.

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Most parents in Central America, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa are as poor as Americans were during the Civil War. And most of them make the same hard choice: Find jobs for their children or starve the family. Do you love those children more than their parents love them? Do you really presume to be able to make better choices for them from your suburbia paradise?

I was blessed to be born in a family that could afford not to send me to work as a child. My father, Mitko, a math professor, worked two jobs and my mom, Krasi, did research on paper technologies. Their combined income paid the bills and they even took me to the beach every summer. My parents weren't so blessed as children. One of my grandfathers was a White Army officer, the other worked for the government while the Americans were bombing Sofia.

When the Red Army occupied Bulgaria, both grandfathers went on the list of "enemies of the people." One died, the other barely escaped imprisonment. If the communist government had acted like you, demanding the closing of sweatshops and forbidding children to work in the years immediately after WWII, I might not have been here to tell you my story today. So yes, if I had entrepreneurial skills and enough savings, I would consider it an honorable deed to go to a poor country, open a sweatshop, and hire predominantly children under 16.

Alex Tokarev
Alex Tokarev

Alex is the chair of the Department of Business at Morthland College in West Frankfort, Ill., and teaches at Northwood University in Midland, Mich. The native of communist Bulgaria fanatically supports the Bulgarian soccer team, Levski.

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