The term child performer includes young singers, actors, dancers, gymnasts, etc. These children are exceptions to the 1973 Convention concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, and so may be paid for their work, as long as they have permits that “limit the number of hours during which and prescribe the conditions in which employment or work is allowed”. However, some feel that child performers ought not to be such an exception, and that it should be ensured that no child under the minimum age for admission to employment be allowed to partake in paid work of any kind.
Currently, child performers are protected by various laws, for example laws which dictate how many hours the child may work and how much education they must receive (both of which vary by country), or how much of their pay must be reserved for the child themselves (e.g., Canada’s “Coogan Law”). Yet some believe these laws do not provide adequate protection, and that these child performers represent a group (and a group which is on the increase) whose rights are being undermined. A subset believes that the only way to protect these children completely is to ban child performers outright.
 Sand, ‘Child performers working in the entertainment industry around the world’.
Spending so much time either performing or training limits the amount of formal education the child can receive. For example, in the UK and other countries, child performers are only required to be educated for three hours each day.
Additionally, the focus on the specialised skill of the child (e.g., acting, dancing, etc.) may detract from their family’s or their own interest in formal education.
It is entirely possible for child performers to achieve high grades. For example, Jodie Foster graduated magna cum laude from Yale University, despite having been a child star.Child performers who spend a lot of hours on-set will also have access to a certified teacher who acts as their personal tutor during that time.
In addition, as long as the child performer obtains a sufficient understanding of the core academic curriculum, it doesn’t matter if they are more interested in their chosen career area than in formal education, especially if they plan on continuing on that career path into adulthood.
Children are generally considered to be too young to make important decisions for themselves, and so decision-making falls to parents, teachers, etc. For child performers, there are additional decision-makers: their agents. Since agents benefit financially from the child’s getting a role or doing well in a sporting event, there is a definite risk of exploitation. Exploitation can also come from parents, as in the famous case of American television child stars Jackie Coogan and Gary Coleman, who both sued their parents for spending the money they had earned as children or of Macaulay Culkin, who blocked his parents from having access to his earnings.
With the number of child performers on the increase, parents are becoming more aware of what to expect from their child’s agent, and thus less likely to unwittingly allow exploitation. Additionally, laws exist to prevent parents from spending their child’s wages; for example, the “Coogan Law” dictates that parents in California must open a trust account for their child in which 15% of that child’s earnings must be put aside.
 Sand, ‘Child performers working in the entertainment industry around the world’.
Even experienced adults can find it difficult to deal with stage fright or performance anxiety. Children, more emotionally vulnerable than adults by nature, should not be exposed to this sort of pressure. This is especially true in situations where the child is being paid for their performance, since the added necessity to perform well can lead to even more pressure. Although suicide among children is rare, it is believed often to occur as a result of the child feeling like she is under too much pressure, or failing to meet the expectations of others.
There are also consequences that continue long past the child has stopped performing; former child actors often have the problem as young adults as feeling as having already ‘peaked’ and find themselves without a sense of drive or ambition or a coherent adult identity, consequentially they often suffer from substance abuse and addiction
Children will always feel pressure in certain areas of their lives, whether with exams or school plays. It may be true that pressure is greater for child performers, but children who perform at a professional level are generally more skilled, and so they are often better at dealing with this pressure. At the very least, they gain enough experience at a young age, that they learn the skills needed to succeed, even in high-pressure situations. Given the pressures all children face, surely it is ethical to allow children into a world where they can learn how to deal with these stresses and protect themselves against possible future problems.
Children involved at a professional level in sports are at a higher risk than their peers of physical problems like breaking bones. In some cases, these physical problems can be fatal; e.g., Julissa Gomez, who died from complications of a vaulting injury contracted when she was 15 in warm-ups for a gymnastics competition.
Even in careers like acting and dancing there are risks for child performers. Actors and dancers are usually encouraged to stay thin, often to an unhealthy degree. Because children are particularly vulnerable, they are more susceptible to the perils of over-exercising for athletes and eating disorders for performers. It has been found, for example, that girls who dance in their childhood are more likely than their peers to develop anorexia nervosa in later life. Lena Zavaroni, the childhood winner of ‘opportunity knocks’ in the 1970’s, struggled with eating disorders for all of her life and died aged 34.
With the damage eating disorders can do to a person’s body, it should be illegal to expose children to such risks.
The added risk for most child athletes and performers is very low, and there is professional help in place for them to manage it.
Children who compete professionally in sporting events are only exposed to real risk in very rare, extreme situations. Some elements of risk exist in all aspects of life: children who are allowed to play on rollerblades are slightly more at risk of injury than those who are not; children who live in cities are at more risk of traffic accidents than those who live in the countryside, who are at more risk of falling out of trees, etc. Adults and children alike make decisions in which they take risks in the name of the greater benefits. For children who play a sport professionally, the physical training they receive can build strength and muscle and increase fitness levels, which provide the child with improved health and protection from injury in future. If child performers were banned, there would be no way of making sure that any children who still ended up in the business (i.e., illegally) had access to the support staff (e.g., physiotherapists, nutritionists) currently available.
When it comes to the possibility of eating disorders in child performers, professionals also exist for the prevention thereof. For example, in New York the Child Performer Advisory Board to Prevent Eating Disorders (Labor Law Section 154) exists to educate and provide information for child performers and their guardians.
Child performers are exposed to a much higher level of responsibility than their peers, without the maturity to deal with it. They may be exposed to sex, drugs, or alcohol, in a context too far removed from a normal life that they don’t learn adequate coping mechanisms. It is no surprise that many child performers “burn out” by the time they reach adulthood, often experiencing problems long before, as in the case of actress Drew Barrymore, who entered rehab at the age of 13. Children should not be encouraged to enter into these adult worlds of acting, modeling, dancing, etc. Michael Jackson attributed his obsession with children and childhood as a consequence of having missed out on a childhood himself.
 Barrymore, Little Girl Lost
Cases like Drew Barrymore’s are rare, and many young performers have happy and successful careers. All young people are likely to be exposed to adult experiences at some point in their childhood, and it should be left to parents and teachers to educate children of the dangers of alcohol, drugs, etc., no matter what activities the child takes part in outside of school or the home. For many of the areas that involve child performers, there are also laws in place to ensure children are not exposed to age-inappropriate situations. For example, in North America and other countries laws exist to ensure children in the entertainment industry are not “put at risk physically (no dangerous stunts),” “exposed to morally compromising situations,” or ever allowed to “be nude or partially nude,” or “be engaged in overt sexual acts”.
Child performers are currently protected by laws about all sorts of things from the minimum amount of education they may get to their pay and how many hours they can work. Many of these laws would be much more difficult to enforce than a blanket ban. It would be simple to enforce as child performers would in most cases be easy to spot – as they are performing for the public. The government could then bring charges against those who are employing the child and fine them.
Banning child performers could be successful for professional child performers in regulated industries but it would be much more difficult to prevent child performers on a small scale. It will also be very difficult to get a balance between allowing children to develop in their chosen profession or sport while preventing them from actually engaging in any performance that displays that talent.
In some films or television shows, child actors are absolutely necessary in order to realistically portray society and the roles children play. The incredibly popular Harry Potter films, for example, would not have been half as convincing without the large cast of actors under the age of 18 playing the schoolchildren. Child actors are also necessary in the advertising industry, in order to make products appealing to a younger audience. Some sports, too, would be endangered if children were not allowed to compete. Ice skaters and dancers, for example, benefit greatly from training starting at an early age.
In a lot of films, television shows, and stage productions, it is possible to have young adult actors playing child roles. For example, in the popular American television show The O.C., the main characters were played by young adults ranging from 18 to 29 years of age but all portraying teenagers. Sports needn’t suffer either: the minimum age of competition for gymnastics has already been raised, and others can surely follow their example without suffering from it. If professional leagues are not allowed to roster athletes below the age of 18, for example, children will compete in amateur and educational leagues where the pressure and commitment is lower, but where they can still train for the professional arena.
While being a child performer is legal, these children’s working circumstances are under the protection of the law and monitored by government departments such as the Inland Revenue, Health and Safety, etc. Were child performers to be banned, it is certain that some children would still perform, but would not be thus protected. This has already happened in certain professional sports where athletes can benefit by lying about their age. For example, it is easier for Latin American baseball players to sign with U.S. Major League teams if the teams think they are young. As a result, countless players have lied about their age, including a number of high-profile cases, such as Miguel Tejada who was named Most Valuable Player in 2002. Many of these young players, however, have been less successful. There are too many unfortunate examples of players who came to the United States at a young age and, under the increased pressure, fell victim to serious drug problems, often resulting in overdose and death. A ban would not prevent children from performing; it would actually further expose them to whatever risks may be involved.
If child performers were banned, it would be the duty of the government to ensure children were not illegally performing, just as it is currently their duty to protect current child performers. In the United States, for example, Major League Baseball has begun to institute DNA testing for international players, in order to ensure that they are being truthful about their age when they come to America.Banning child performers is possible, and it is the only way to truly protect children’s rights and to prevent them from the inherent physical and emotional risks.
Many child performers would undoubtedly protest if their right to perform were taken away from them, and justly so. This can be seen in quotes from the likes of Roddy McDowall, who said in an interview in 1963 that he “had a particularly wonderful time” as a child actor, and would presumably have been quite upset had a ban been enforced in his lifetime. It is beyond the rights of the government to make illegal an opportunity that allows those talented on the stage, in front of a camera, on the pitch, etc. (who might well not be so strong in other, e.g., academic, areas) to make a living from doing what they do best.
Some child performers have also proved to be extremely business savvy – the ‘Olsen Twins’ have built a massive industry off of their Disney stardom.
Children might feel as if their rights are being taken away, but there is a reason why children are not given free reign over the way they live their lives. Governments have already stepped in to prevent children from endangering their health by consuming too much junk food,and indeed from working in non-performance fields. So too must they take charge in this issue and act so as to prevent children from becoming susceptible to the emotional and physical risks involved in being a child performer.
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