In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Child Labor

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • History
  • Children’s Views on Child Labor
  • Illustrations and Films
  • Analysis of Policy, Monitoring, Law Enforcement
  • Action and Campaigns against Child Labor
  • NGOs

Childhood Studies Child Labor
Mary Lorena Kenny
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0092


Approaches to research on child labor, and the development of appropriate action to combat it, have shifted in the past few decades. Children’s labor was previously considered “natural” as an inherent aspect of being poor, and rarely were their voices included in collection of data. Today, both quantitative and qualitative studies include first-person accounts to bolster their analysis. The umbrella term, “child labor,” has been disaggregated to order to highlight how context—gender, race, sexuality, urbanization and global shifts in labor and consumption, natural disasters—shape the nature, extent, interpretation, and representation of children’s work. Together with scholarship historicizing “childhood,” the family and household, and the ongoing efforts by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), a rich source of information is available to help navigate the complexity of children’s work and the significance it has for children, their families, and the world.

General Overviews

This is a suggestive, not exhaustive, list. It draws from the thousands of books, articles, government reports, essays, newspaper commentaries, dissertations, traveler accounts, photographs, and films produced by political, academic, and humanitarian agencies that describe, decry, and advocate against child labor. Emphasis on child labor may be embedded in studies on street children, human trafficking, and human rights. The following works provide broad overviews of the causes and consequences of child labor, their sociocultural contexts (Hindman 2009; Hobbs, et al. 2002; and Leonard 2009), and efforts to eliminate child labor (Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking; International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour; Understanding Children’s Work). Schlemmer 2000 is a good companion to these broad overviews, as it anchors children’s work in local structural and social locations and highlights how their work “makes sense” to children, their families, and the community. Lee-Wright 2009 provides information for understanding how economic transformations and policies create new forms of labor, migration, and consumption. Abebe and Bessell 2011 draws attention to the importance of including children’s labor in sex work and drug distribution as increasingly prevalent forms of household labor.

  • Abebe, Tatek, and Sharon Bessell. “Dominant Discourses, Debates and Silences on Child Labour in Africa and Asia.” Third World Quarterly 32.4 (2011): 765–786.

    DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2011.567007

    Comprehensive overview analyzing the evolution of different discursive frameworks (the “work-free” childhood, compulsory schooling, cultural and political economic context) that have shaped policies and practices addressing child labor. Highlights the need for more scholarly attention to domestic labor, prostitution, and illicit drug sales as work that sustains children and their households.

  • Hindman, Hugh D., ed. The World of Child Labor: An Historical and Regional Survey. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2009.

    An encyclopedic overview of child labor, both contemporary and historical. Contains over 200 essays addressing the nature of child labor and the efforts to combat it. Contains regional and country-specific studies. One of the few studies that addresses child labor in the United States today.

  • Hobbs, Sandy, Jim McKechnie, and Michael Lavalette. Child Labor: A World History Companion. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2002.

    This reference is useful for the student approaching the topic for the first time. It provides brief descriptions of topics, people, and agencies that range from the historical to the present, child-labor niches, persons and agencies working on behalf of children, country profiles, websites, bibliography, and photographs.

  • International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour.

    IPEC is a clearinghouse for information on the nature and extent of child labor worldwide policies, laws, and action plans. Brief factsheets provide basic information on types of labor.

  • Lee-Wright, Peter. Child Slaves. London: Earthscan, 2009.

    Outlines the global dimension of child labor by showing how the production (of goods and services) by children in low-income countries is associated with the consumption (of goods and services, including sexual labor) in wealthier societies.

  • Leonard, Madeleine. “Child Work in the 21st Century: Dilemmas and Challenges.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 29.3–4 (2009).

    The entire issue is devoted to contemporary debates on children’s work (legal, human rights, definition of a child). It presents qualitative case studies (child prostitutes in Thailand, cocoa workers in Ghana) as well as quantitative research on household composition (Brazil), self-esteem (United States), and accidents (United Kingdom) associated with child labor.

  • Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking.

    The OCFT provides annual reports on the worst forms of child labor going back to 2002, the Campaign against Child Labor series, By the Sweat and Toil of Children series, and an A to Z annotated bibliography on child labor and forced labor in different countries.

  • Schlemmer, Bernard, ed. The Exploited Child. London: Zed Books, 2000.

    A collection of essays focusing on empirical research (India, Thailand, Togo, Ghana, Senegal, Madagascar, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala), policy (India, Brazil), and the difficulties in conceptualizing “child labor” within customary and exploitative family, household, and societal practices.

  • Understanding Children’s Work.

    The UCW offers a wealth of information created from a partnership between the ILO, UNICEF, and the World Bank. This site provides two hundred data sets from one hundred countries and a bibliography on child labor searchable by issue, author, and country. A good place to start to get baseline quantitative information.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.