Child Labour in Global Society: Volume 17


Table of contents

(17 chapters)

In this introductory chapter, the main issues running through Child Labour in Global Society are identified and a perspective on making sense of these issues is outlined.

The central concern is child labour within the schooling process of modern and modernizing societies under globalization, that process through which children’s labour power is produced for consumption during the process itself and beyond.

The driving issue is the implications of the compulsory aspect of schooling given prevailing notions of ‘slavery’, and especially that definition which is well established in law on all planes from the international to the regional to the domestic.

Given these notions, the question arises: ‘can the modern schooling process be regarded as enslaving?’

The view that slaves are commoditized people is addressed, along with the argument that the commodification of people is a culturally contingent process.

From the ‘processual perspective’, slavery at the individual and societal levels appears as a process of transformation that involves changes and phases.

Just as individual slaves undergo transformations in their social status, so societies undergo transformations over various matters relating to slavery, including which people can be enslaved, what counts as slavery, and so on.

The claim that in modern and modernizing societies, people are enslaved in so far as they are compulsorily required to perform labour within the schooling process is introduced, as is the argument that such slavery is endorsed by human rights law and agreements, not least by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).


This chapter is about child labour as slavery in modern and modernizing societies in an era of rapid globalization.

For the most part, child slavery in modern societies is hidden from view and cloaked in social customs, this being convenient for economic exploitation purposes.

The aim of this chapter is to bring children's ‘modern slavery’ out of the shadows, and thereby to help clarify and shape relevant social discourse and theory, social policies and practices, slavery-related legislation and instruments at all levels, and above all children's everyday lives, relationships and experiences.

The main focus is on issues surrounding (i) the concept of ‘slavery’; (ii) the types of slavery in the world today; (iii) and ‘child labour’ as a type, or basis, of slavery.

There is an in-depth examination of the implications of the notion of ‘slavery’ within international law for child labour, and especially that performed through schooling.

According to one influential approach, ‘slavery’ is a state marked by the loss of free will where a person is forced through violence or the threat of violence to give up the ability to sell freely his or her own labour power. If so, then hundreds of millions of children in modern and modernizing societies qualify as slaves by virtue of the labour they are forced – compulsorily and statutorily required – to perform within schools, whereby they, their labour and their labour power are controlled and exploited for economic purposes.

Under globalization, such enslavement has almost reached global saturation point.


This chapter is about the modern (Western) educational regime, educational industry paradigm and schooling process, while focussing on statutorily imposed and legally enforced schooling as the main aspect of the hidden curriculum within a globalizing world.

It is about children's productive labour through schooling, whereby children's labour power is consumed, produced and reproduced on behalf of social formations under the capitalist mode of production (CMP).

The claim that a well-educated population is essential for development so that all societies share an interest in having children participate in schooling as much as possible is the central element of the Western education industry paradigm, the global appeal of which is reflected in how compulsory schooling has been embraced almost everywhere in conjunction with being heavily promoted within the ‘international community’ and widely endorsed by researchers, scholars and similar observers.

Contrary to Bowles and Gintis's correspondence principle, the structure of schooling is not an identical to the structure of the workplace in that it entails compulsion, whereby schooling is as efficient and effective as possible in meeting the needs of the CMP.

The CMP benefits from the state having shifted confinement as a mechanism to force people to work onto schooling; or, from compulsory social enclosure, whereby schools increasingly resemble military and prison systems.

Compulsory social enclosure helps to ensure that children's productive capacity – or labour power – is enhanced to the benefit of the CMP, this being the major factor in accounting for its appeal and advance on the world stage, globally.


This chapter is about the modern, Western education system as an economic system of production on behalf of the capitalist mode of production (CMP) and globalization towards a single, global social space around market capitalism, liberal democracy and individualism.

The schooling process is above all an economic process, within which educational labour is performed, and through which the education system operates in an integrated fashion with the (external) economic system.

It is mainly through children’s compulsory educational labour that modern schooling plays a part in the production of labour power, supplies productive (paid) employment within the CMP, meets ‘corporate economic imperatives’, supports ‘the expansion of global corporate power’ and facilitates globalization.

What children receive in exchange for their appropriated and consumed labour power within the education system are not payments of the kind enjoyed by adults in the external economy, but instead merely a promise – the promise enshrined in the Western education industry paradigm.

In modern societies, young people, like chattel slaves, are compulsorily prevented from freely exchanging their labour power on the labour market while being compulsorily required to perform educational labour through a process in which their labour power is consumed and reproduced, and only at the end of which as adults they can freely (like freed slaves) enter the labour market to exchange their labour power.

This compulsory dispossession, exploitation and consumption of labour power reflects and reinforces the power distribution between children and adults in modern societies, doing so in a way resembling that between chattel slaves and their owners.


This chapter pulls together the main strands of Child Labour in Global Society, and addresses their implications for the sociological study of children’s lives, schooling and slavery.

In popular and scholarly discourses there is a tendency to emphasize the differences between the social lives of children and those of adults rather than the similarities and continuities; to misrepresent children’s social activities in comparison with those of adults; to rationalize the differential way in which children’s social activities and participation are assessed and rewarded relative to those of adults; and to fortify children’s actual and/or assumed marginal situation in modern society.

There are sociological gains to be had from emphasizing the comparable features and structural links between ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’ due especially to the common participation of children and adults in productive labour.

The way in which children’s social activities are differentially assessed and rewarded is reflected in how children are denied full citizenship rights, and so are non-citizens.

In particular, children are denied the right to freely exchange their labour power on the labour market.

While viewing educational labour as forced labour does not sit well with ideas about children and childhood in modern society, doing so is consistent with the element of compulsion in for instance the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Being compulsorily required to perform educational labour is indicative of how in modern societies children are owned and in slavery, not just of the de facto kind, but also of the de jure kind.

Publication date
Book series
Sociological Studies of Children and Youth
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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