The topic is of interest to the Biopact, because some African countries, like Senegal, as well as EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Development, Louis Michel, have stressed that bioenergy production may offer an opportunity to reduce emigration pressures. Tens of thousands of Africans try to reach Europe each year, at the risk of losing their lives in the process, and Senegal is key transit point (map, click to enlarge). The country's president, Abdoulaye Wade, is one of the staunchest advocates of utilising biofuels as a way to secure jobs on the continent and thus to reduce emigration flows. Their potential to generate employment and wealth amongst rural communities makes that biofuels can contribute to relieving two waves typical of this exodus: poverty-driven internal migration from rural areas to the cities, and the poverty encountered there by unskilled workers who then decide to migrate further (earlier post).
The researchers say that the problem of child labor is arguably one of the most important issues of our time:
Excessive effort, hazardous work, bonded labor, armed conflict, prostitution and pornography, long work hours, unhealthy working conditions, absence of schooling, malnutrition, and sexual harassment acquire a different meaning when applied to children. The phenomenon of child labor has been viewed as an epidemic of the global economy that must eventually be eliminated.According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about 15 percent of children worldwide between the ages of 5 and 14 are classified as child laborers. Of these working children, about 171 million children work in hazardous conditions and 5.7 million are forced to work against their will.
Analyzing the economic effects of globalization on the incidence of child labor constitutes a high research and policy priority. Lower migration barriers that induce unskilled adult workers to migrate from poor to rich countries, alone or with their children, increase the incidence of child labor.In contrast to prior economic models about child labor that assume altruistic parents reluctant to part with their children, Dinopoulos and Zhao propose a model that incorporates the idea that at least some children go to work because their parents are eager for the additional income:
biomass :: bioenergy :: biofuels :: energy :: sustainability :: labor :: poverty :: child labor :: emigration :: Africa ::
The study also assumes that while skilled and educated adults can do things children cannot do - working as foremen, supervisors or machine operators - children can perform similar work as unskilled adult workers, especially in the agrarian sector.
The analysis further shows other conditions under which globalization-related changes can affect the incidence of child labor, including trade policies that encourage the production of child-labor intensive products and taxes that discourage foreign investment in child-labor-free sectors in developing countries.
When it comes to the poverty-alleviating power of bioenergy, it is clear that the sector is no panacea. As Dinopoulous and Zhao show, child labor often occurs in the agrarian sector. So in the context of biofuels, the issue remains highly complex and carries risks:
- biofuel production may offer jobs and additional incomes for rural populations, reducing emigration pressures, and thus indirectly lead to a reduction of child labor
- but biofuel production may just as well entice parents who see the opportunity for additional incomes to push their children into farm labor directly
Picture: Bitter chocolate: An African child drying cacao beans in West Africa's plantations. Credit: Project Hope and Fairness.
Map: Key migrant routes from Africa to Europe. Courtesy: BBC.
Elias Dinopoulos and Laixun Zhao, "Child Labor and Globalization" [*abstract], Journal of Labor Economics, 2007, vol. 25, no. 3.
BBC: Destination Europe: Key facts: Africa to Europe migration.