Reframing the Debate on Child Labor in Rural Africa

…By Babatunde Lucas for TDPel Media. Children in rural Africa are commonly expected to engage in farm work and domestic tasks as a part of growing up.

Some children are harmed by their work, while others may be exploited or trafficked.

However, most children are not negatively impacted by their work, and in rural communities, learning to work is a normal part of growing up.

Re-framing the Debate on Child Labor

The book “Children’s Work in African Agriculture: The Harmful and the Harmless” argues that not all children’s work is harmful, and the focus should be on re-framing the debate about child labor.

Such re-framing can disrupt power relations and align them to focus on addressing harmful child labor more effectively.

Defining “Harm”


Chapter two of the book defines the concept of “harm,” which is central to understanding the “rights and wrongs of children’s work.”

The authors argue that harm is a contested concept and difficult to identify, assess, and understand.

Progress can be made with an approach to harm that prioritizes the perspectives and voices of children, their families, and communities.

School and Work Relationship

Chapter four of the book highlights how the relationship between school and work is oversimplified.

While it is commonly asserted that a child’s place is in school and any work that interferes with school harms the child, in many cases, children may have better opportunities for learning, skill development, and future livelihood enhancement through their work on the family farm.

The school-work dichotomy leaves no room for the trade-offs and compromises that rural children and their families must navigate daily.

Negative Consequences of Efforts to Eradicate Child Labor


Ongoing initiatives to eradicate child labor from global agricultural value chains can have negative consequences for rural children and their families.

Reframing the debate about child labor in African agriculture is necessary to ensure that efforts to eradicate harmful child labor are effective and do not harm those who depend on children’s work for their livelihoods.

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