Kristin LaHatte

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Sayaka Uchikawa

I visited Battambang, Cambodia in 2003 to work as a volunteer at a youth house managed by a NGO called Kokkyo naki Kodomotachi (KnK, Children without Borders). Approximately forty former working, trafficked and street children were living and studying together in the youth house, and I assisted in organizing cultural exchanges and educational activities with them. While interacting with the children, I became increasingly aware of the fact that some of the children still wished to work. Even though the NGO provided them with a stable life with food, housing and education, they felt strong responsibilities toward and commitments to their family. Moreover, I began to doubt that whether anti-child labor interventions had considered the cultural context of the children including their time allocation for work, education and play. Expanding access to education is stressed in the common intervention strategies, yet it does not often fully address the traditions and local culture of the children, and roles of the children in households and communities.

Although the worst forms of child labor, such as child prostitution, slavery and child soldier, should be unconditionally eliminated, such poorly informed anti-child labor interventions that ignore the local and cultural context can be a trigger for increasing risk and insecurity of working children and so-called child labor.

All the sources in this bibliography demonstrate that anti-child labor programs and policies often underestimate the complex ways of life of child workers. They advocate for more child-centered or child-focused research with attention to the importance of their cultural context. Some studies even claim that, without comprehensive understanding of the cultural reality, the efforts to reduce child labor may make conditions worse (Busza, Castle and Diarra 2004). For instance, immediately after the US Congress adopted the Harkin Bill in 1993 to ban the import of all garments produced by children in Bangladesh, about ten thousand Bangladeshi children were fired. However, despite the expectation that the liberated children would attend school, many of them had been sent to an even more exploitative situation (Seabrook 2001:21). When considering the individual level of risk and security of child labor, the following factors must be considered: family roles and cultural values, power relations in the social structure (Kuntay 2002), the perception of the community towards child labor (Montgomery 2001), and the interpretation of children’s roles in their villages (Rende Taylor 2005). Ignoring these factors can increase the vulnerability of the children.

The anthropologists included in this bibliography do not support child labor. Instead of simply arguing that all the child labor should be eliminated, they tend to more focus on the work, status and roles of the children within their family and society, and describe their reality within the local cultural context. The reports by anti-child labor activists and journalists are also important sources of information about the situation of the children. Nevertheless, in order to understand why children work from a child and individual perspective requires a cultural anthropological approach. Otherwise danger, risk and insecurity of each child may not decrease and may even increase.

Additional Works Cited

Seabrook, Jeremy. 2001.

Children of Other Worlds: Exploitation in the Global Market. London: Pluto Press.

Annotated Bibliography

Ajavi, A. O., and D. O. Torimiro. 2004.

Perspective on Child Abuse and Labour: Global Ethical Ideals versus African Cultural Realities. Early Child Development and Care 174:181-191.

This article compares the two perspectives. The first is the theoretical perspective on child abuse and child labor in the global ethical and ideal framework that is often maintained by international agreements. The second is the African local cultural perspective. Qualitative data was collected from six rural farming communities in Nigeria and analyzed to see the African cultural perspective and reality. The article argues that it is not right to examine a case of child abuse and child labor without a close examination of the culture. It concludes that the use of children for farming in Nigeria is a training and a socialization process of children that fits within local cultural realities.


Child labor

Child abuse

Global ethics

Child development and welfare studies

Boyden, Jo, Birgitta Ling, and William Myers. 1998.

What Works for Working Children. Smedjebacken, Sweden: UNICEF International Child Development Centre, & Rädda Barnen.

The authors, an anthropologist and practitioners of child social welfare issues, argue that the most traditional and widely prescribed measures for calling for elimination of child labor usually do not work. They advocate for a child-centered perspective on child work drawing more attention to working children themselves and examining child work in relation to child development, family life, health, school, child protection laws, and the market economy. Their research is based on field studies, literature reviews, a mail survey of organizations and individuals considered to have substantive experiences in child work issues, interviews with working children in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Philippines, and Central American countries, and the professional experience of the authors.


Working children

Child-centered perspective

Policy relevance

Busza, Joanna, Sarah Castle, and Aisse Diarra. 2004.

Trafficking and Health. BMJ: British Medical Journal 328:1369-1371.

This article argues that efforts to reduce child trafficking may be making conditions worse for those who migrate voluntarily. In Mali and Cambodia, intermediaries have been assisting safe migration for vulnerable young migrants for a long time. However anti-trafficking groups often intervene without comprehensive understanding of the migrants’ motivations of the cultural and economic contexts, which can ironically increase migrants’ risk of harm and exploitation. Anti-trafficking programs need to incorporate culturally and economically appropriate services.



Child trafficking

Child migration

Policy studies

Engebrigtsen, Ada. 2003.

The Child’s – or The State’s – Best Interests? An Examination of The Ways Immigration Officials Work with Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Minors in Norway. Child & Family Social Work 8:191-200.

The author argues that immigration officials in Norway tend to see only the interests of the nation, such as border control and national security, rather than the interests of child migrants, such as family reunion. The article claims that the official definition of child migrants and the interpretation of their best interest do not take into account the background, issues and circumstances of those children but only legal framework.

Child migration

Unaccompanied minors


Family reunion

Social work studies

Gates, Hill. 2004.

“I Can’t Read, but I Can Reckon”: Work, Emotion and Calculation among Early Twentieth-Century Sichuan Girls. Taiwan Journal of Anthropology 2:119-139.

Gates interviewed Sichuan women who experienced cotton factory work and foot binding in their childhood. She argues that the psychological experience of the women has developed their skills of numeracy, even though they were never taught the skills in an institutionalized educational system. She advocates that biological research should be combined with cultural anthropology, in order to help understanding such practices as the foot binding, childhood work experience and numeracy skills of Sichuan women.
China, Sichuan


Psychological development


Biological anthropology

Cultural anthropology

Green, Linda. 2003.

Notes on Mayan Youth and Rural Industrialization in Guatemala. Critique of Anthropology 23:51-73.

The article explores “configurations of production, power and culture” using an example of Mayan youth, waged workers in the maquila factories in Guatemala. The author discusses the change of and the impact on households, community and culture of rural Guatemala with development and modernization. She explains this issue in the various contexts such as land, labor, racism, culture, and gender, and argues that rural industrialization had produced powerlessness among the youth population.

Mayan Indians



Rural industrialization


Cultural anthropology

Hall, Tom, and Heather Montgomery. 2000.

Home and Away. Anthropology Today 16:13-15.

This article discusses the different representations of childhood and youth in Western and non-Western social categories. The authors argue that childhood can be a commodity in the power structures between developed and developing nations. For example, the British media consider young people engaged in prostitution in Thailand as innocent child prostitutes. Thus public reaction to the children is often sympathy. On the other hand, the media see youth working in streets in Britain as street children and criminals. The young homeless and prostitutes in Britain remain stigmatized and prosecuted even when they are under eighteen years old.



Great Britain

Homeless youth

Social exclusion

Cultural anthropology

Helleiner, Jane. 2003.

The Politics of Traveller ‘Child Begging’ in Ireland. Critique of Anthropology 23:17-33.

The author discusses child begging in the cultural, historical and political contexts of the Travellers in Ireland. She describes how child begging has been a part of Travellers people’s culture and life, and also challenges the essentialized and universalized childhood concept. The article claims the needs to critically examine debates and policy initiatives for marginalized child labor, and to reassess the children’s work with their relations to parents and culture.

Travelling people, Travellers


Child labor

Policy studies

Cultural anthropology

Kibride, Philip, Collette Suda, and Enos Njeru. 2000.

Street Children in Kenya: Voice of Children in Search of a Childhood. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.

This book describes street children in Nairobi, Kenya, and their lives as products of specific cultural patterns. The team of sociologists and anthropologists, two of whom are Kenyans, conducted individual interviews, discussions and surveys with the street children. They show the complex ways of lives of the children.

Street children


Urban city


Cultural anthropology

Kuntay, Esin. 2002.

Family Backgrounds of Teenage Female Sex Workers in Istanbul Metropolitan Area. Journal of Comparative Family Studies 33:345-358.

This article examines the family backgrounds of teenage female sex workers in Istanbul, Turkey, based on the in-depth interviews and questionnaires conducted in 1998. The research shows how cultural values reproduced over generations, such as “the institutionalized hierarchies and the power relations existing in the social structure” effect on the social problem of teenage female sex workers.
Turkey, Istanbul

Teenage female

Sex workers

Policy studies

Social science

May, Ann. 1996.

Handshops and Hope: Young Street Vendors in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Anthropology of Work Review 17:25-34.

May claims that the diversity of child labor in urban cities is ignored and underestimated, especially in Africa. She suggests working children are not one homogeneous group while many previous studies tend to combine all of them together despite of their diversity. The studies did not distinguish beggars with street workers, or boys with girls. This article describes young workers in the informal sector, hand-shop vendors, of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Tanzania, Dar es Salaam

Child labor

Street vendors

Informal work

Cultural anthropology

Miles, Ann. 1993.

Doing Housework: Children, Gender Socialization and Moral Development in Cuenca, Ecuador. Anthropology of Work Review 13-14:12-14.

The author focuses on the household tasks of children in economically poor urban households in Cuenca, Ecuador. She discusses how the domestic chores and activities of children affect their moral good, family cooperation, reciprocity and interdependence within their family, and also their ideological commitments to the gender difference in the society. While in cities, more children tend to go to school instead of working. They still make contributions to the housework, a pattern that relates to their moral development.

Ecuador, Cuenca

Gender roles


Urban households

Cultural anthropology

Montgomery, Heather. 2001.

Modern Babylon?: Prostituting Children in Thailand. New York: Berghahn Books.

Montgomery argues that the Western context of understanding of children’s rights does not always recognize children’s roles in different cultures such as Thailand. She indicates the importance of cultural contexts such as the children’s kinship, especially ties with mothers, the community’s perception towards prostitution, and the money and power relationships when understanding the situation of those child prostitutes in Thailand.


Child prostitutes

Child rights


Child-centered perspective

Cultural anthropology

Nieuwenhuys, Olga. 1996.

The Paradox of Child Labor and Anthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology 25:237-251.

This review describes anthropological and other approaches to the issue of child labor, and reveals the paradox, the limits of current notions such as work and gender among the approaches to child labor. The author criticizes the anthropological approaches that often romanticize the work of children as a form of socialization and nostalgic. The article argues that what is lacking in the issue of child labor is “to address the exclusion of children from the production value.”

Child labor


Cultural anthropology

Porter, Karen A. 1996.

The Agency of Children, Work, and Social Change in the South Pare Mountains, Tanzania. Anthropology of Work Review 17:8-19.

The author describes the agricultural work of children in South Pare Mountains, Tanzania, and argues that the work of children is not only determined or conditioned by households, gender, or kinship, but, also by the market, cultural meanings and social agencies embedded in work roles. Children increase their agency and cultivate their market strategies as they position themselves in the market economy. Porter suggests that policy makers and planners should be more aware of broad processes of economic transformation that affect the children.
Tanzania, South Pare

Child labor

Cultural anthropology

Policy relevance

Post, David. 2002.

Children’s Work, Schooling, and Welfare in Latin America. Colorado: Westview Press.

This book is a comparative case study of child labor (age 12-17 years), schooling, and family welfare within and between Mexico, Chile, and Peru. Post, an educationalist, presents his original analysis of household survey and school enrollment data, and interprets the trends in the children’s time and energy allocation for home, family, school, and work.




Child labor


Family welfare

Social science

Rende Taylor, Lisa. 2005.

Dangerous Trade-offs: The Behavioral Ecology of Child Labor and Prostitution in Rural Northern Thailand. Current Anthropology 46:411-431.

Rende Taylor, a regional counter-trafficking coordinator for the Asia Foundation, describes her findings about the relations between child labor, trafficking, prostitution and parental wealth, based on her field research in two northern villages in Thailand. For instance while first-born daughters may seen as vulnerable to exploitation and hazardous forms of work, they are often protected because of the recognition of their important roles at home, especially taking care of younger siblings.

Child labor

Child prostitutes

Child trafficking

Kinship and family

Sociobiological anthropology

Rigi, Jakob. 2003.

The Conditions of Post-Soviet Dispossessed Youth and Work in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Critique of Anthropology 23:35-49.

The author analyzes the condition of youth and their attitudes to work in post-Soviet Kazakhstan. The neo-liberal reform created a large number of dispossessed youth. The government and markets saw the dispossessed youth as lacking knowledge and skills required in market values due to lack of formal qualification such as education. Rigi argues that those dispossessed youth actually have more sophisticated practical knowledge and more complex social survival skills than elite youth, due to their independent street life at an earlier age.

Youth unemployment

Social marginalization

Post-Soviet change

Cultural anthropology

Salazar, M.C. 1991.

Young Workers in Latin America: Protection or Self-determination? Child Welfare 70:269-283.

The article offers comprehensive pictures of child labor issues in Latin America, such as Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, and discusses the situation of child labor, their relationships with adults, and community-level policies. The article calls a need for researchers to address the issues in regard to the cultural factors of child labor, such as the relationship between family and employment, the class of children, and also the self-determination of children and adolescents.

Latin America

Child labor

Child rights

Adolescent rights

Child welfare studies

Social science

Sharp, Lesley A. 1996.

The Work Ideology of Malagasy Children: Schooling and Survival in Urban Madagascar. Anthropology of Work Review 17:35-42.

Sharp conducted her research in a plantation town of Ambanja in Madagascar, 1993-1995. Based on the data, this article challenges assumptions about child labor, such as that child laborers are helpless victims, forced to work, and not able to go to school. Sharp argues that the independent market-based work of young boys ensures their own survival and that of their families. Those who go to school have less economic benefits than the young entrepreneurs.
Madagascar, Ambanja

Youth work



Cultural anthropology

Sharp, Leslie A, 2003.

Laboring for the Colony and Nation. Critique of Anthropology 23:75-91.

Sharp conducted interviews with youth from three high schools in Madagascar and asked about national identity, colonial history, the cultural value of childhood, and their daily survival. Based on the data, this article discusses children’s political relevance and institutionalized labor practices in the colonial and postcolonial periods. Sharp explores relations among nationalism, labor ideology and youth, by looking at politicized understanding of the past of the youth and personal and national independence in Madagascar.


Youth labor

Youth identity



Cultural anthropology

Sikkink, Lynn. 2001.

Home Sweet Market Stand: Work, Gender, and Getting Ahead among Bolivian Traditional Medicine Vendors. Anthropology of Work Review 22:1-6.

The author spent six month in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She conducted research with women in the traditional medicine vendor markets. Sikkink argues, regarding children’s work, that those women want their children to have the economic base with their work as traditional medicine vendors. Thus the children can develop true professions. They grow up understanding their culture, family values, and knowledge of the use, sale, and worth of the medicines.
Bolivia, Cochabamba

Women’s work

Traditional medicine vendors

Cultural anthropology

Sykes, Karen. 2003.

Introduction: The Ethnography of Children’s and Youth’s Work in The Age of Capitalist Restructuring. Critique of Anthropology 23:5-16.

This is an introduction article to a special issue of the Critique of Anthropology. The author calls for ethnographical discussions and explications on the issue of child and youth work. She states that the issue of child and youth work had been discussed among employers, activists and mass media, however it is necessary to be reassessed and researched by anthropologists.

Child labor

Youth work

Child-centered perspective

Cultural anthropology

Anthropology of work

Weiner, Myron. 1991.

The Child and the State in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

This book is a study of child labor and education in India. Weiner, a political scientist, interviewed government officials, educators, and activists in India, and describes their different views toward child labor issues. He argues that the fundamental beliefs of government officials based on Indian culture, rather than social and economical reality, shape the policy and laws of compulsory education and child labor in India.

Child labor


State policy

Political science

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