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Is all child labor "child slavery"?

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I've been hearing a lot of arguments against child labor, that children of young ages can't consent - therefore, if any child were to work somewhere, it would be slavery.

Now, I'm not sure if Ayn Rand has addressed child labor laws at all, but I am guessing in a free-market society, child labor wouldn't necessarily be illegal - government may perhaps take action against them only in cases where it seems as though the parent is out of their mind, either for leting or encouraging them to work in certain places.

But at the same time, it can also be argued that, if children work anywhere - regardless of whether or not it's at Starbucks, or a coal mine- the child is a slave.

Would it be wrong to argue that the child is a slave, until he is conscious enough to be able to legally consent?

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The argument that all child labor is slavery falls flat on 2 fronts:

Firstly, taken to the extreme, that argument would mean that any work done by any child is slavery, and that therefore every child who is told to wash disches or make a bed is in fact a slave, clearly this is not true.

Secondly, at many points in western history, and still today in many places, children routinely perish from lack of basic neccesities. To prohibit a child from working for sustenance on the grounds that work = slavery, and that therefore somehow a slow death by starvation is preferable is absurd.

Children are not morally incapable of giving legal consent, they are merely legally incapable of giving consent until the age of 18 for certain activities. Children can and do give consent for many transactions, a 10 year old spending his allowance money at the candy store is legally able to trade money for items of value, and it is not consdered theft, even though he is below the age of legal consent for contracts and certain adult activities.

Clearly the "age of consent" laws only apply to particular types of activities, and these will vary by nation and era.

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I agree with Capitalist Fred. I'd also point out that in some professions, such as farming, much of the learning is done by working as soon as possible (I grew up driving tractors and helping with livestock long before I was of legal age to drive a car). I have friends in the restaurant business who grew up working -- and learning -- in the family restaurant when still quite young.

Some professions such as competitive athletics requires huge investments of time when still very young -- if "work" is regarded as slavery, then "practice" might be included under that umbrella.

A distinction should, and I think could, be made between exploitation and work.

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Firstly, taken to the extreme, that argument would mean that any work done by any child is slavery, and that therefore every child who is told to wash disches or make a bed is in fact a slave, clearly this is not true.

This is the issue I'm having: I'm not so clear that it's not true. It may not be necessarily a bad thing that a kid is told to wash dishes, but the issue I'm having trouble with is the idea that child labor is not slavery. Would I have to argue that, by definition, a kid is a slave until he is an adult capable of making his own choices?

Edited by Black Wolf
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"This is the issue I'm having: I'm not so clear that it's not true. It may not be necessarily a bad thing that a kid is told to wash dishes, but the issue I'm having trouble with is the idea that child labor is not slavery. Would I have to argue that, by definition, a kid is a slave until he is an adult capable of making his own choices?"

Slavery entails the usurpation of one's rights to one's proper wages and to one's ability to determine one's own choices. It makes a man a commodity, little more than a useful machine that can be bought or sold. It is a degradation of man. Expecting a youngster to contribute to the welfare of the family that is supporting and protecting him is not a degradation (within reason...), but rather a sharing of responsibility, one that will prepare him to be a more effective worker when he is on his own. It's an educational opportunity, not slavery (I am speaking of typical conditions here in the United States). I don't know why you would have to argue otherwise.

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"This is the issue I'm having: I'm not so clear that it's not true. It may not be necessarily a bad thing that a kid is told to wash dishes, but the issue I'm having trouble with is the idea that child labor is not slavery. Would I have to argue that, by definition, a kid is a slave until he is an adult capable of making his own choices?"

Slavery entails the usurpation of one's rights to one's proper wages and to one's ability to determine one's own choices. It makes a man a commodity, little more than a useful machine that can be bought or sold. It is a degradation of man. Expecting a youngster to contribute to the welfare of the family that is supporting and protecting him is not a degradation (within reason...), but rather a sharing of responsibility, one that will prepare him to be a more effective worker when he is on his own. It's an educational opportunity, not slavery (I am speaking of typical conditions here in the United States). I don't know why you would have to argue otherwise.

Because if someone can make the case that a child can't consent at a certain age, regardless of what they actually say - and if people make the argument that a slave is, by definition, someone who is working without consent - then the case can be made that a child is inherently a slave.

Your argument is that if the child is working, or being asked to find a job that is not a danger to his health, in exchange for continued shelter. That's great - but it doesn't eliminate the problem of - can a child consent? Child labor, good or bad, humane or inhumane is not voluntary unless the case can be made that consent can be given. Mutual transactions that aren't consented doesn't eliminate slaveyr.

CapitalistFred and you have provided very good arguments that kids should be allowed to work - but it doesn't eliminate the problem of:

- Can a child consent to work?

- Is child labor voluntary?

- If it's not, is it slavery?

The fact that a child is able to purchase may imply that the child is capable of consenting to certain activies. Now, imagine if the store clerk said.. "Hey kiddo, you want more of these candies? If you get a job here, you can afford more of this candy!" The child instantly says yes... in this situation, it doesn't seem like the child was in his right mind to consent. What would be proper consent - if he asked his parents first? Assuming what Avila said, that a child getting a job is merely contributing to the welfare of his family, perhaps the case can be made that child labor, with consent of the parents, is not slavery.

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I get the impression from your statements that you have a deeper confusion on the delimited nature of children's rights as a special case?

I might. I think perhaps, my confusion stems from the lack of arguments provided other than reductio ad absurdum.

I understand that children have limited rights, due to a developing rational faculty - but the problem I'm having is - does this make them inherently slaves, if they do any work?

Edited by Black Wolf
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There is, It seems to me, some confusion in this thread on the meaning of the word "consent". Consent is a legal term, and as a legal term has a specific meaning which, by definition, can not apply to children. A child cannot legally consent to certain types of transactions including sexual activity with an adult, and contracts. Nor can a child legally drink alcohol or operate a motor vehicle in most cases.

In the legal definition, a child cannot give consent for those thigs. A child can, however, give assent, agree, or consent to any range of activities not specifically proscribed. My 3 year old, for example, consented to finish her broccoli at supper last night in order to get ice cream. Children can and do give consent (which is only another word for agreement) on many many many issues, which clearly would include "consenting" to engage in productive activities in order to recieve food, shelter, and clothing if that is needed.

We are somewhat spoiled in the west, and have the luxury of having created enough wealth that there is normally no need for children to engage in productive work beyond schooling and a few chores, this doesnt change basic morality. By this spurious child slavery argument, even schooling would be slavery, as the poor child cannot "consent" to attend school nor to do homework.

Children, as human beings, are morally obliged to do what is needed in order to support life - even in wealthy societies they are required to feed themselves when they are mature enough to do so (feeding oneself is work), to wipe their own butts, brush their own teeth, etc.

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I agree with CapitalistFred's conclusions, and just a few points that may not have been

covered : the parent's consent (obviously in accordance with their child) should be required; that child "labor"

is already smuggling in a tainted premise - if we're talking working in, say, the family shop; also, that

"slavery" means work without recompense, and unacceptable for anyone.

Basically, a liberal-progressive construct, as I see it.

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Because if someone can make the case that a child can't consent at a certain age, regardless of what they actually say - and if people make the argument that a slave is, by definition, someone who is working without consent - then the case can be made that a child is inherently a slave.

The fallacy of equivocation is at work here. The word consent is being used as a political and legal concept behind "age of consent" laws, and then as the ethical concept behind "rights" and "force". These are related concepts, but moving a conclusion from narrow legal context to the broader ethical context is the reverse of the proper way to travel between those contexts. What we know about consent as an ethical concept is logically and hierarchically prior to the usage of "consent" in a legal context. This can be described as an inheritance relation between a parent concept and a child concept, but the fallacious slavery argument made here is presuming that inheritance relation can move in the direction of child concept to parent concept.

It is not the case that because there exist laws that assert the legal principle that children below a certain age can never give consent to have sex or join the army or drive or vote or drink alcohol that actual children can never give consent on anything at all.

Put in different way:

Slaves do not have rights. Children do have rights. Therefore children are not slaves.

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The fallacy of equivocation is at work here. The word consent is being used as a political and legal concept behind "age of consent" laws, and then as the ethical concept behind "rights" and "force". These are related concepts, but moving a conclusion from narrow legal context to the broader ethical context is the reverse of the proper way to travel between those contexts. What we know about consent as an ethical concept is logically and hierarchically prior to the usage of "consent" in a legal context. This can be described as an inheritance relation between a parent concept and a child concept, but the fallacious slavery argument made here is presuming that inheritance relation can move in the direction of child concept to parent concept.

It is not the case that because there exist laws that assert the legal principle that children below a certain age can never give consent to have sex or join the army or drive or vote or drink alcohol that actual children can never give consent on anything at all.

Put in different way:

Slaves do not have rights. Children do have rights. Therefore children are not slaves.

Succinctly stated.

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There is no such thing as child slavery beyond on any other kind of human slavery. There is, however, child abuse. If a parent puts a child into a dangerous working environment, they should be punished.

This is still problematic as one has to define "dangerous working environment".

Many would consider farm work, or restaurant work (knives, boiling stock, deep fryers) or landscaping dangerous.

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Would it be wrong to argue that the child is a slave, until he is conscious enough to be able to legally consent?

First, what is a slave? Humans treated as property that can be bought, sold and disposed of at the will of the owner. Slaves have no rights; they don't own their lives or anything else.

A child can't legally consent, but their parents are morally and legally empowered to consent on their behalf. For example, a child can't sign a release for surgery; only their parents can. Parents act as guardians, making decisions on behalf of their children that they think are in the children's best interest. However, parents are not empowered to violate their children's rights or to treat them as property or slaves.

I've been hearing a lot of arguments against child labor, that children of young ages can't consent - therefore, if any child were to work somewhere, it would be slavery

Children are effectively wards under the care of their parents. They can legally and morally be told what to do when those actions are in their long-term best interest -- which excludes things that physically or mentally hurt the child, of course.

With regard to child labor, no rational parent would want their young kids to work. However, if it's a choice between working and starvation or death, then it seems clear to me that work is the better choice. In fact, if a parent let their child die when work could have saved them, I would consider that to be child abuse, not the other way around. As long as the parent's consent is involved, it's clearly not slavery. The child is simply being directed to act in the child's long-term best interest.

OTOH, if a child was working without their parent's consent, at the call of and under the control of some third party, it could easily start to fall into the category of slavery -- and even if it wasn't quite slavery, it shouldn't be legal, either.

Edited by LovesLife
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Now, I'm not sure if Ayn Rand has addressed child labor laws at all

Would it be wrong to argue that the child is a slave, until he is conscious enough to be able to legally consent?

Ayn Rand described how her heroes grew up working. John Galt it is hinted, had to work to survive from a young age.

Roark and Wynand, as they get to know each other, find common ground in how they both had to work themselves "up".

Francisco's youth is illustrated with his experience as a 10 year old deck-hand or some other risky low-paid job aboard a ship. In this case Francisco consciously did it for adventure only as he had more than the necessary means not to work, and maybe unconsciously to practice real-world work. He repeats this experience founding his own Copper Company before inheriting his family's empire.

So my guess from her novels is that Ayn Rand was very much in favor of allowing children to work. My guess from her non fiction works is that she obviously was.

-

Now what do you mean by "conscious enough to (...) consent" ?

This is not sex which is conditioned by puberty and eventually old age.

Before even considering the question of whether a child can be conscious enough to work (!), let's consider a more prickly subject,

Are children currently consenting to being brainwashed and forced-socialized in an environment that in adult humans is only recreated in prisons, mental hospitals or other "institutions" (thus the horrible neologism of "institutionalized" for legally-deprived-of-rights) ?

Do children consent to schooling? Now starting from age "zero to five" ! ?

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First, what is a slave?

Children are effectively wards under the care of their parents. They can legally and morally be told what to do when those actions are in their long-term best interest -- which excludes things that physically or mentally hurt the child, of course.

Why of course!

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... However, if it's a choice between working and starvation or death, then it seems clear to me that work is the better choice. In fact, if a parent let their child die when work could have saved them, I would consider that to be child abuse, not the other way around. ...

I agree 100%. How can anyone choose starvation?

Ludwik Kowalski (see Wikipedia)

.

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First, what is a slave?

Children are effectively wards under the care of their parents. They can legally and morally be told what to do when those actions are in their long-term best interest -- which excludes things that physically or mentally hurt the child, of course.

Sorry for replying with an exasperated mannerism - I forgot where I was.

Honestly I meant to draw attention to the very conflicting nature of children Rights.

You ask what is a slave, then you describe a children as being in virtual bondage to the parents. The risk of abuse is normally offset by the fact that by force of nature parents will love their children. But what happens when a life is destroyed or abused for its own good? That's why I kind of mocked your certainty when you said

(which excludes things that physically or mentally hurt the child, of course)

mentally hurt the child? Don't most parents inevitably do just that and with the best of intentions?

What happens to the arbitrariness of considering a 17 year old individual dependent to his or her parents, and an 18 year old a fully sovereign individual?

Now back to work. Why shouldn't children be allowed to legally work? Why shouldn't parents be allowed to make their children work or help the household when 1) they already do as a matter of survival in half the World and 2) they allow their children to be institutionalized by state-directed public or private education in the other half of the World!

Sorry if I came out sour, I actually thank all participants of this thread for considering such an important subject.

By the way, does someone have any comments on the fact that maybe half of Ayn Rand's heroic characters worked while growing up?

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  • 2 weeks later...
mentally hurt the child? Don't most parents inevitably do just that and with the best of intentions?

I didn't mean "mentally hurt the child" in that way. I meant abuse, not discomfort.

You ask what is a slave, then you describe a children as being in virtual bondage to the parents.

Children have rights. Slaves do not. Children have parents / guardians. Slaves have owners.

The relationship between parents and their childen is not one of bondage; it's one of dependency. Children are not capable of surviving on their own, without help.

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Child labor for the benefit of others is slavery. Child labor for the benefit of the child is not. I'm pretty sure it's as simple as that.

P.S. Maybe I should use "exploitation" instead of slavery. Slavery is the most extreme, total exploitation of a person. An isolated act of exploitation, or exploitation to a limited extent, does not qualify as slavery.

That's why taxation, mandatory military service, etc. aren't the same as slavery.

Edited by Nicky
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That's why taxation, mandatory military service, etc. aren't the same as slavery.

. I think that, semantically, you are correct...

transitive verb

1

:

to make productive use of
:
utilize
<
exploit
ing
your talents> <
exploit
your opponent's weakness>

2

:

to make use of meanly or unfairly for one's own advantage<
exploit
ing
migrant farm workers>

but it seems a gross injustice to put a voluntary arrangement that takes advantage of one party's ignorance(at worst) in the same conceptual category as forcing an individual at the point of a gun to fight and often die for a cause they do not agree with all while being trained or worked against their own will in various military tasks.

If you place slavery at the far end of a continuum of exploitation, then a draft is about 97% of the way to the slavery end, and in practice, can often be much worse for the "exploited" individual than a well run plantation might be since slaves as an object of value don't usually have to watch their friends arms and legs being blown of their bodies or experience that for themselves involuntarily.

Taxation, since it can vary as a percentage of a persons time, can fall anywhere on that spectrum. An effectual 100% tax, assuming it didn't just end of turning everyone into randomly persecuted criminals(as in the former soviet states of china a few decades ago) would amount to the same as slavery. Your life, in all measurable respects would not be your own. At 6% it would be little more than a nuisance.

The purpose of the separation, I understand, is to avoid minimalizing the evils of slavery, but to then ignore the massive and often permanent harm of another injustice like the draft is a mistake also in my view.

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but it seems a gross injustice to put a voluntary arrangement that takes advantage of one party's ignorance(at worst) in the same conceptual category as forcing an individual at the point of a gun to fight and often die for a cause they do not agree with all while being trained or worked against their own will in various military tasks.

If I agreed that child exploitation was just someone taking advantage of the child's ignorance, I wouldn't put it in the same category. But it's not. Ignorance doesn't cause someone to want to work. Fraud or threats do that, same as with adults. The only difference is that children are even less equipped to impose their will on the situation than the very young adults who are usually forced into military service.

That's why conscription is at 18 most of the time, btw. It would be much more difficult to coerce every 27 yo. in a country to show up for military service. Doesn't mean the 18 yo.'s want to serve, it just means it's harder for them to resist. The same applies to younger people, but even more so.

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