Do International Sanctions Reduce Child Labor? Evaluating the Impact of the 1992 U.S. Child Labor Deterrence Act on Bangladesh
In the world today, an estimated 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen are working to help support their families. Most economists agree that the root causes of poverty and thereby the determinants of child labor must be addressed to reduce the number of children participating in the workforce, but U.S. popular opinion has often called for the use of sanctions to combat the injustices of child labor. In 1992, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa introduced the U.S. Child Labor Deterrence Act, which called for a ban on the importation of products made or mined in whole or part by children under the age of fourteen. The bill never passed into law, although it was reintroduced several times in the early and mid-1990s, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the mere threat of the bill's passage had a strong short-term effect on child employment. Economic theory leaves the overall impact of sanctions like these ambiguous. Child workers could be forced out of the manufacturing sector, but it is unclear to what extent they would move to school rather than simply move into other sectors of the labor market. This study uses data on over 60,000 children from the National Child Labor Survey of 2002-2003 to test whether the threat of U.S sanctions lastingly deterred children from working in manufacturing in Bangladesh. I find no discernible effect of the 1992 U.S. Child Labor Act on child labor force participation in Bangladesh. Policymakers should use targeted measures such as widespread voucher programs in manufacturing-intensive regions to supplement household income and decrease child labor participation.
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