Shine and misery of child labor

When it comes to child labor, most people think of 19th-century Dickens capitalism, where children are forced to work from morning to night in an explosives factory to the sound of a carabiner. Dirt, hunger, disease and a little more dirt on top. Fortunately, a good state protects us from this horror.

Child labour
Child labour

The article was written by Jakub Skala for Ludwig von Mises Institute Czechia & Slovakia (

But is it really so? Murray Rothbard v Ethics of Liberty writes:

Allegedly "humanitarian" laws on child labor systematically and forcibly prevent children from starting work, thus favoring their adult competitors. Children who are forcibly 'protected' from work and earning and forced to attend schools, which they often do not like or are not suitable for, then often fall into 'truancy'. Extracurricular activities are an accusation used by the state to drive children to reformatories in the name of "redress", where they are in fact imprisoned for doing or not doing something that would never be considered a "crime" in adults.

What does the letter of the law say about child labor?

Act No. 262/2006 Coll., Labor Code - Title II: Participants in labor relations
Part 1 - Employee
§ 6
(1) The ability of a natural person as an employee to have rights and obligations in employment relations, as well as the ability to acquire these rights and assume these obligations through his own legal acts arises, unless otherwise provided in this Act, on the day when a natural person reaches the age of 15; however, the employer may not agree with her as the day of commencement of work on the day preceding the day on which this natural person ends compulsory schooling.
(2) Deprivation or restriction of an employee's legal capacity to perform legal acts is governed by Section 10 of the Civil Code.

Fifteen-year-olds (sometimes even sixteen-year-olds) are therefore not allowed to work. Although they can already legally drive a motorcycle or have sex, they are not allowed to work by law! (Of course, the laws that determine when a person can have sex or drive on the road are meaningless, but this topic is not the subject of this text.)


We will divide the children according to the families in which they live into two groups - rich and poor - and we will show that in both cases the ban on child labor harms the very ones it is intended to protect.

Let us consider as a rich family any such family that has sufficient income at least to cover basic costs such as food, housing, clothing, etc. Children under a certain age will then rather concentrate on school and entertainment and will not work. But then they don't need laws to protect them. They do not work because they do not want to, not because officials have decided to do so. If they still want to earn extra money so that they can buy a new iPad, for example, where does a civil servant have the right to prevent them from doing so? The children earn money and then buy what they want. If they don't like work at work, there's nothing easier than quitting.

Let's look at poor families now. By this term we will understand such a family, where parents cannot provide even basic needs for the family. If children could not work in such an environment, then they would be thrown into poverty by the state. But if they can work, then they will have the opportunity to break out of their poverty. Here again, if children do not want to work, they do not have to (at the cost of suffering). So the choice is up to them again and the state should not interfere in any way.

If governments today ordered compulsory schooling for children in Africa's poorest countries, would they help them in any way? Instead of these children working to make a living at all, they would be forced to attend school. Their parents would not be able to support them and the result would be greater suffering for their children.

Finally, consider an example where parents will force their children to work. Of course, a parent cannot physically force his or her child to work, as this would violate his or her property rights to his or her person. But she can make a deal with him: "We will feed you, clothe you, and you will have a place to sleep, and you will contribute two thousand to us every month." If both parties agree to this deal, then there is no problem. If the child decides not to accept such a proposal, then he has the opportunity to leave his family and either become independent or find a new family. Just like today.

But is a scenario in which a parent forces his young child to work at all probable? Not.

Children's market

Let's turn aside for a moment now. In a free world, a free market for children (or organs, for example - both are unimaginable today and yet perfectly logical and in accordance with natural rights) would work in the same way as the potato market, for example. On the one hand, there are people who do not have a child, but want to have one. And on the other hand, there are people who have a child but do not want to have one.

But this is a real situation that is happening today. But in today's system, the state monopolizes the right to "trade" with children (orphanages, adoption, foster care) and artificially sets their price at zero. The only difference compared to today would be an order of magnitude better functionality of the children's market, which would lead to greater satisfaction of parents (whether they offer or demand a child) and children! This would prevent, for example, foster families recruiting more and more children just to reach for higher state contributions.

Given that the demand for children is generally higher than their supply, we do not have to worry about the lack of interest in children. Moreover, they could also exist in a free market children's homes to which children could take refuge in the event of an emergency.

Let us now return to the example where parents force their children to work. Can such a case occur at all? It is very unlikely, however it can occur. Just like today! If parents in the free world cannot afford a child, or if they don't want a child at all, there is nothing easier than offering it to someone else. It would be difficult for someone to keep a child who does not want to have a child or cannot secure it financially. Likewise, a child who runs away from home would find it much easier to find new parents. If one wants to make a child a 'slave', then this is, of course, contrary to the child's natural law. [1]


Everyone certainly remembers our parents telling us that we do not know the value of money. In my opinion, the sooner a person knows the value of money, the better for him. Work, even if smaller and "insignificant", will teach a person more responsibility and independence. It is then difficult for such a child, when he or she grows up, to go to the employment office and claim his / her "entitlement" to various benefits.

Prohibition of children work artificially raises salaries and prevents children from earning extra money. Children work because they want more money. If a government official forbids them to do so, he will not help them in any way.

[1] Murray N. Rothbard writes on the issue of children's rights in his book Ethics of Liberty - Chapter 14. The book in the Czech Republic was translated Liberal Institute.

The article was written by Jakub Skala for Ludwig von Mises Institute Czechia & Slovakia (


  1. Mr. Kučík, I know you from the blog on iDNES; you are not a socialist! The main idea of ​​individualism is: not to worry about things that I don't care about. My person, my property, my genes (and therefore my children), that is my problem. Mr. Novák's children are Novák's problem, or the problem of his wife. Mr. Novak should take care to spread his genes and ensure their success in competition with other individuals, and if he fails, then bad luck for him. All the better, of course, for me, because my genes have lost competition, and partly for the gene pool of humanity, because Mr. Novak has dropped out of it with his own stupidity, so his stupid genes would only be a burden.

  2. This attempt at a liberal world is (diplomatically) greatly simplified. I myself am a supporter of maximum freedom, but the case with children is much more complicated than the article suggests. In short, children are not potatoes, they are a more complicated entity, so what can work with potatoes in its simplicity would run into difficult problems for children. Randomly, for example, the fact that children are not a mature free partner for negotiations - they cannot equally enter into agreements with adults, assess profitability (find "better parents", "better offer"), etc. Therefore, all these decisions must be made by an adult. The correct question is whether this adult protector should be a parent or a civil servant. Both tradition and the liberal idea correspond to that, of course, to the maximum extent of the parent. However, it is a real fact that a small number of parents carry out their protectorate in a reprehensible way (child prostitution, physical abuse, etc.). Since an immature child is not able to defend himself adequately, a certain level of protection is necessary for another adult, ie a civil servant whose level is limited by law. These are therefore the extreme boundaries of the problem, and it is possible to discuss the extent to which the parent's competence ends and the state's competence begins. There will certainly be a consensus on minimizing state competence. However, it cannot be zero even theoretically, and the question is where its borders should lead. It is always a mistake to determine it artificially, from the drawing board. In part, it is always determined by tradition, of course…

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