Child Labor Hazard on Mental Health: Evidence from Brazil

J Ment Health Policy Econ. 2018 Jun 1;21(2):49-58.


Background: Child labor has been usually claimed to produce negative effects on health. However, most of the studies that investigated this hypothesis examined only its impact on child laborers' physical health. This study formulates the hypothesis that child labor may have an impact on the mental health of these individuals.

Aims of study: The aim of this study was to investigate the risk of child laborers to develop symptoms of depression in adulthood and to examine the role of physical and mental health of the family members on their risk of developing depression.

Data and methods: We used the 2008 National Household Sample Survey (PNAD, Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicilios) and its special supplements to estimate probit models.

Results: Individuals who started working between the age group of 15-17 have about 0.6 percentage points lesser risk of developing depression as compared to those who started working between the age group of 10-14. Further reduction of this risk was observed for the age groups of 18-19 and 20-24. No statistical evidence was found regarding older age groups. Individuals with a mother with depression have about 3.2 percentage points higher risk of presenting symptoms of depression. Chronic physical illness in mothers increases the risk of depression in child laborers by 0.3 percentage points.

Discussion and conclusion: Our study supports the hypothesis that work during childhood increases the risk of developing depression in adulthood. Family mental health status and chronic physical illness play a substantial role in the risk that child laborers have to develop depression.

Implications for health policies: The results of the study indicate the need of basic mental health services aimed to the assessment and care for child laborers who withdraw from work, with the aim of reducing the risk of depression in adulthood. The results underline also the importance of mental health assessment and care for those children with a family member with depression or chronic physical illness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Brazil
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Developing Countries*
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Risk
  • Young Adult