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Child Labor on the Horizon: Arkansas' Youth Hiring Act Sparks Controversy

Written by: Bonnie Chapman

Child labor is at the center of a controversial petition in Arkansas, backed by Representatives Burkes, Underwood, and Long, as well as Senators C. Penzo, J. Bryant, and M. McKee. They are promoting the initiative as the "Youth Hiring Act of 2023." The proposed legislation seeks to eliminate the state's requirement for children under 16 to obtain permission from the Division of Labor before being employed. Advocates argue that this would restore decision-making power to parents and simplify the hiring process for minors.

However, child labor is illegal in numerous countries and contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which asserts that children should be protected from exploitation and hazardous work. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has cautioned that child labor can deprive children of their childhood and potentially result in severe psychological and physical harm. Furthermore, as highlighted in a World Bank study titled "Ending Child Labor in Africa: A Review of Policies and Programs," critics argue that child labor perpetuates poverty and prevents children from attending school, thus limiting their future opportunities.

Organizations such as the ILO and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have identified child labor, forced labor, human trafficking, and other exploitative practices as deeply troubling. According to the ILO, numerous children are coerced into work and child labor is often connected to other forms of exploitation, including human trafficking and debt bondage. The UNODC also emphasizes that children subjected to forced labor are susceptible to trafficking and additional forms of exploitation.

In today's world, children face numerous challenges, including the threat of violence at school and now, potentially, at work. A peer-reviewed study by Clay Routledge, titled "The Meaning of Nostalgia," suggests that our longing for childhood is due to the fewer responsibilities and obligations we had, which made it a period of freedom and innocence compared to adult life. Jonathan Haidt, a writer for The Journal of Positive Psychology, notes that childhood is a time of discovery and exploration, which often diminishes as we grow older. By introducing children to the workforce, we risk stifling their curiosity, social skills, imagination, and academic growth. Our children deserve the chance to experience full, carefree childhoods, creating lasting memories with friends, without the added burden of employment concerns.

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