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Artistic License – Child Labor Laws

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"Flip's the only guy who will hire four-year-olds with no experience."
Lisa Loud, The Loud House

A Sub-Trope of Artistic License – Law. Sometimes, you are watching a TV show, and the cast stars kids. The writers want to make a New Job Episode, but kids are too young to work. Who cares? Let them get the job anyways! It is just fiction, after all!

In fictional universes, underaged kids (below 14) are shown working despite being too young to work in real life (or at least America). It used to be legal back in the late 19th/early 20th century during the height of the Industrial Revolution, but it is now illegal due to the problems it caused to children back in the day. If you did this in real life in America (or any other countries with this law), the child would be taken away and the manager would be charged for violating child labor laws.

The job that the kids get will often be some sort of job that you would expect a teen to have (such as a Burger Fool or a Soul-Sucking Retail Job). The kid will usually make money, but not a lot of money. It could be more than that and they could be a Grade-School C.E.O.. They may or may not like their job.

Keep in mind this trope doesn't apply to kids 14 or older working, as it's legal in America and many other countries (though with restrictions regarding the type of work and the hours that are allowed). This trope also doesn't apply to kids volunteering (such as at an animal shelter), doing community service, or their own fundraiser jobs they created (such as lemonade stands). It also doesn't apply when the work they are doing falls under an exception, most notably (non-hazardous) work for their Family Business.

This trope also applies to modern-day when child labor is illegal, and only in countries that it is illegal in. Or, when child labour is legal (Albeit with restrictions), a character is working a job that is illegal and/or impractical for them to work, or during hours where they can't work (such as late nights or early mornings) It is also in a messy area when it comes to agriculture — agriculture is considered an exception (To the point where you are considered to be legally employed if you work on a farm more than 15 hours if you're not paid) but at the same time, most child labour these days is found in agriculture. Theatre and film is another messy area when it comes to the laws surrounding child labour laws — the results are often depicted in the Former Child Star.

The Kid Detective usually doesn't count as an example of this trope — they're often not actually employed by any formal agency.

If the child is in the army, they are a Child Soldier. If they lead a kingdom, it is A Child Shall Lead Them. Compare Young Entrepreneur, Grade-School C.E.O., and Child Mage. See also Improbable Age.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Azumanga Daioh: In August 1999 and July 2000, Chiyo gets a part-time job at Magnetron Burger despite being ten years old. The manager is fully aware that she's underage, but believes she needed the money and got a fake high school ID to apply. In the 2009 reprint, he instead hires her because she already has encyclopedic knowledge about the restaurant and can recount the prices of specific orders off the top of her head.
  • Di Gi Charat has absolutely no problem with children as young as six working at an anime store.
  • Food Wars!: Ryou Kurokiba is shown managing a restaurant kitchen while still in his pre-teens. In Denmark, of all places, which is not exactly known for lax child labor laws.
  • Crosses over with Child Soldiers in Fullmetal Alchemist which sees Edward Elric employed as a State Alchemist since the age of 12 (his brother Alphonse is not, however, since Ed didn't want him at the beck and call of the military). The young son of the lead miner in the town of Youswell also works in the mine, despite definitely not being any older than Ed. Justified, as the series is set in a vaguely early twentieth century-esque setting- Anachronism Stew technology and clothing aside- where modern child labor laws wouldn't apply. The main thing keeping other children from being State Alchemists is the fact that being good enough at alchemy to pass the entry examination requires a science background roughly equivalent to a postgraduate STEM degree, which very few children are likely to have - before Ed came around, the youngest person to pass the State Alchemist's exam was Roy Mustang at 20.
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War: Hayasaka has been serving as Kaguya's personal servant since they were both seven and is the de facto head of the household staff at seventeen due to seniority. The narration in chapter 179 points out how illegal all of this is, but the Shinomiya family just doesn't care.
  • In the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, not only does child labor seem to be legal in the otherwise rather utopian society of Midchilda, but it's seen as perfectly normal for the Space Police to deploy 9-10 years old mages into potentially extremely hazardous situations (like apprehending magic-wielding criminals wanted for murder). That said, most of it is a Acceptable Breaks from Reality owing to the series' origins in the Magical Girl genre, and its main continuity has been steering away from this trope for a long time, either by focusing on adult crime fighters, or by having pre-teen mages engage in supervised martial arts tournaments instead.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, although also being an example of Child Soldiers, has "Human Debris", orphans created by the myriad wars that are happening on Earth and Mars (and against each other) who are just picked up or volunteer to become frontline soldiers for pay and it takes until the very end of the series for someone to actually care to do something about it and that "someone" happens to be the Villain with Good Publicity Big Bad.
  • The reason why Tanya is able to enlist in the military at the age of eight in The Saga of Tanya the Evil is because the mage corps is the one branch of the army that doesn't have a minimum enlistment age. This was intended to be so that they could conscript magically talented teenagers somewhat early to ensure they were fully trained and ready to actually fight at the normal enlistment age for the other branches. Nobody expected that a literal child would walk into a recruitment office and volunteer, but the way the rules were written, once she did they couldn't turn her down.

    Comic Books 
  • Justified in Batman comics: as his various sidekicks are his children, no one really sees anything wrong with Bruce Wayne sometimes letting his kids play a role in the Wayne businesses. However, it's played with regarding Damian, who is much younger than his brothers when he gets involved (around ten years old) and it's obvious a lot of adults don't know what to do with a Comically Serious, dangerous Child Prodigy who thinks he should be treated with the same respect his father gets.
    • Subverted when a woman tries to have Robin (Dick Grayson) removed from Batman's custody because being a sidekick is child endangerment. Somehow this is fixed with a document declaring "Robin" to be legally emancipated.
    • Played entirely straight with the Batbaby issue, where Batman is de-aged and continues to fight crime as Batbaby (really a toddler). While he does still have Bruce's adult mind, absolutely none of Gotham seems to find it odd Robin's bringing a toddler along to fight crime with him.
  • In Lucky Penny, David is eleven and a half years old and considers himself a manager at his parents' laundromat. Although he is Wise Beyond Their Years, he’s also there all day, every day for months. His parents are never shown and it’s never explained why he’s not at school. In reality, David’s parents would have their store shut down and David taken away for such a blatant violation.
  • Lampshaded in The Multiversity with regards to ten-year-old Billy Batson working as a reporter.
    Mr. Morris: Batson's report is dynamite. How does this kid do it?
    WHIZ employee: Loosely enforced child-labor laws, Mr. Morris.
  • W.I.T.C.H.:
    • Will working part-time in a pet-shop — at age thirteen.
    • Hay Lin's family restaurant:
      • Hay Lin works there sometimes, but it's a Family Business and she only helps out on occasion — such as when her mother is sick.
      • Taranee helps out on occasion. However, she's not required to do this.

    Fan Works 
  • Oni Ga Shiku Series: Izuku gets employed at Sky Finance as a part-timer when he's only ten years old, with an official contract and everything. This is despite the setting being basically modern-day Japan (where you can't hire anyone under fifteen) and Sky Finance being a legitimate business. The reason Akiyama hires Izuku is because Akatani transfered half his stocks to Izuku, so Izuku makes a deal with Akiyama to work for him while Akiyama will handle the day trading of his stocks. Izuku's job includes helping with the debt collection and the tests Akiyama gives him clients. Ironically, Akiyama terminates his contract when Izuku is fifteen because he wants him to have a normal high-school experience.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In A Cinderella Story seventeen-year-old Sam (the titular 'Cinderella') is manipulated by her stepmother Fiona into working in the family diner during hours that are detrimental to her attending high school; she has to work past midnight on a school night at least once during the film. Californian child labor laws being what they are, by the end of the film, Fiona is in serious trouble for forcing a minor to work so many hours, along with lying about Sam's father's will and taking Sam's earnings for herself rather than putting them into a fund for Sam to go to college.
  • In Richie Rich, Richie is allowed to take over management of his father's company after his parents suddenly disappear, despite being a minor, and thus presumably subject to child labor laws. And while it does get a Hand Wave with Cadbury technically taking over with Richie as his proxy of authority, that's still really pushing it. Then again, he's rich.
  • Rookie of the Year combines this and Artistic License – Sports by featuring a 12-year-old playing Major League Baseball with the Chicago Cubs, thanks to a freak injury to his shoulder that lets him throw amazing pitches. The minimum age for a baseball player in the MLB is sixteen.

  • In The Nightmare Room book Locker 13, the twelve-year-old protagonist's teacher mentions that she can get him a part-time job that he wants, albeit under the table, due to his age. This is somewhat justified by a magical Good Luck Charm giving him all sorts of implausible benefits.
  • Rain of the Ghosts: The Kims are confused by someone as young as Rain checking them in, until she explains that her parents own the hotel.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Malcolm in the Middle, Reese gets a part-time job at a butcher's shop. Most butchers require you to be at least 18, because of how dangerous meat-cutting can get. Malcolm also works the Graveyard Shift in another episode.
  • In a Parks and Recreation episode, Ron Swanson comments, "I got my first job when I was nine working at a sheet metal factory. In two weeks, I was running the floor. Child labor laws are ruining this country." Assuming he's around the same age as Nick Offerman (born 1970), Ron is far too young to have his childhood predate child labor laws.
  • In Yellowstone, Beth and Rip let a fourteen-year-old boy stay on the ranch, on the condition that he works on the ranch. Without pay. Some of the work is dangerous also. If the authorities ever found out, both Beth and Rip would be arrested for multiple labor law violations, and possibly kidnapping.

    Video Games 
  • In EarthBound (1994), Ness is 13 years old. His little sister Tracy has a Vague Age, but is younger than Ness, and got a part-time job at Escargo Express despite being too young.
  • Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale: Multiple, some as adventurers managed by the Adventurers' Guild:
    • Calliou is a Child Mage adventurer. Adventurers don't just run dungeons, but are general errand boys.
    • Recette is 13 at most, and is running an item shop because she needs to pay a debt.
    • Tirelle is an elven child, working as an adventurer, to fund herself while looking for her older sister.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Malo is the youngest and shortest of the village children, but he ends up not only running several shops, he even buys out the competition (thanks to Link's continued funding) and employs adults. We're to assume the Hyrule Kingdom's labor laws are either very lax, or simply don't exist.
  • The Princess Maker series allows your daughter to work as young as 10 years old, though she's limited in the amount of jobs she can take at that age, and gets more as she ages. While most of the games take place in a Medieval European Fantasy setting and can be justified since child labor laws don't exist, the fifth game takes place in modern Japan and still allows your daughter to work at a young age.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: In the episode "Road Hog", the underage Sonic and Tails are thrown into a hard labour chain gang to make up for an unpaid speeding ticket.
  • In The Amazing World of Gumball episode, "The Schooling", Gumball and Darwin (who are in middle school) are asked by Larry to cover several of his jobs. Considering that the series takes place in California (where the minimal age for the workforce is 14), this is technically in violation of the law. But considering it's Elmore
    • Another episode ("The Brain") had a gag where the management of a grocery store gets younger and younger. The manager is a toddler, the boss is a baby, the CEO is still in his mother's womb, the shareholders are sperm...
  • In Aqua Teen Hunger Force, a flashback to Carl's childhood shows that his father made him work as a minor. Carl Sr. had to pull a lot of strings to get them to hire an eight-year-old as a welder in a sheet metal factory.
  • Arthur:
    • Characters as young as the third grade are sometimes shown working part-time jobs in Elwood City. Then again, Most Writers Are Adults does already apply to this show overall.
    • It's justified in at least one case—The Brain's parents own an ice cream parlor, and he is seen helping out on shift occasionally.
  • While Beavis and Butt-Heads' part time job at Burger World itself isn't in violation of the law, they are shown to be unsupervised which is somewhat of a violation, but not too severe. However, the episode "Late Shift" depicts Beavis and Butt-Head working nights. Minors aren't allowed to work past 9 PM on most nights. and they are shown to be there all night.
  • Big Mouth: Gina works at Baskin-Robbins at the age of thirteen, while the minimum age to work part-time in New York State is fourteen, though most businesses don't go younger than sixteen. It's possible Gina might be getting away with it since she's an early bloomer.
  • The Belcher kids in Bob's Burgers are usually helping out their parents in the titular restaurant when they're not at school. Bob did the same thing for his father, also a restauranteur. The seeming illegality of the situation is frequently lampshaded, but minors can indeed perform non-hazardous work for a family business. For all that the kids perform work.
  • A variant occurs in DuckTales (1987) episode "Yuppy Ducks". When Scrooge is in the hospital, no one in his business empire questions his nephews being temporary Grade-School C.E.O.. Of course, this wasn't Scrooge's idea, but the nephews trying to prove they were capable of running a business after he told them they were too young. But they end up losing Scrooge's fortune from their business decisions, forcing them to either find a way to get the money back or tell the truth. There is a "Eureka!" Moment, as they then realize child labor laws were a thing, meaning all their decisions are quickly reversed, and by extension Scrooge's fortune is restored.
  • Meanwhile, in DuckTales (2017) Huey and Dewey get internships at Mark Beaks' company Waddle in the first season, despite the show's timeline making them preteens. To be fair, Mark is a very amoral businessbird who probably doesn't actually care about labor laws unless he gets bad press for violating them.
    • Louie ends up with control of both Scrooge and Glomgold's fortunes in the end of season 2, due to tricking Glomgold after Glomgold won a bet to win Scrooge's (partly due to Louie manipulating the bet). The members of Scrooge's board and Glomgold's CFO Zam Owlson are both unhappy to be taking orders from a child, especially a child with Louie's selfish priorities, to the point of board member Bradford Buzzard tricking him into cutting some "unnecessary" mystical security costs that would sic a zombie on Louie. Scrooge, meanwhile, allowed it because he assumed Louie would crack under the pressure and give back the company, but didn't realize it'd get to the point of The Bombie being unleashed. Also some satellites Louie carelessly shut down set up the Season Finale.
  • Stewie Griffin from Family Guy has been employed in numerous low-level jobs, often without the family noticing he's working there. This is part of a general trend of people only noticing that he's a baby when it's plot relevant or funny.
  • In The Little Rascals second-season episode "After Hours", Darla and the boys get jobs working in a department store warehouse.
  • The Loud House:
    • 4-year-old Lisa works at Flip's Food and Fuel in "The Butterfly Effect" after everything goes wrong. Lampshaded when she states it's the only place she knows that would hire a 4-year-old, and eventually justified when it turns out the whole episode was All Just a Dream.
    • Lisa is seen working again at a science lab in "The Mad Scientist", and even moves out of her parents' house to work there.
    • In "Intern for the Worst", Lincoln and Clyde, both 11 years old, get to work at Flip's Food and Fuel. It's somewhat justified, since it's stated to be a one-day internship and not actual employment, but even so.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "The Washouts", Scootaloo is offered a chance to join a daredevil stunt team. Even without the part where its existing members openly scoffed at the idea of safety, that sort of thing would easily fall under the banner of hazardous work for which hiring minors is strictly forbidden.
  • In Phineas and Ferb, the title characters and their friends are constantly working jobs, such as owning a restaurant, owning a cruise ship, or making toys. This can be justified as they built most of these things themselves, and own the rights to these things. As a Running Gag, they are constantly asked "Aren't you a little too young to do X?" Phineas often replies, "Why yes, yes I am." To this, the character who asks them this usually brushes it off. Although this may be more of a Young Entrepreneur than child labor, a child still doesn't legally work at these kinds of things.
  • The Raccoons: In "Endless Summer!", the Pigs offer Bentley a job at Cyril's olive factory, which Cyril allows and doesn't face any legal repercussions for doing so. With that said, Cyril seems to recognize this may not be a wise business decision later on as he doesn't rehire Bentley after he's been fired for being falsely accused of messing up the machinery and allows him to spend time with his friends during his summer vacation.
  • Discussed on Rocket Power: While being forced to work in his father's restaurant, Otto complains that there are child labor laws. Sam "helpfully" points out that those don't apply to family businesses as long as their children do nonhazardous work.
  • The Simpsons has multiple New Job Episodes about Bart, most memorably when he wound up having to be the doorman for the Maison Derrière in "Bart After Dark". Presumably, Belle's burlesque house is above board, as Marge's ire seemed raised more at the nature of the business than the fact that 10-year-old Bart was working there.
    • Another episode, "Behind the laughter" also has Lisa (as an animated actor) saying "Aren't there child labour laws?". Homer, in a fit of rage, says "Who told you about those?!"
  • In the South Park episode "The City Part of Town", Kenny gets a job as cleaner at the City Wok restaruant along with a bunch of other kids.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures: Numerous broadly adolescent members of the cast have held menial (or not so menial in Hamton's case) jobs at the various businesses around Acme Acres with no one batting an eye. One noteworthy example would be Montana Max having to take a job to afford his butler's services as a butler himself.

Alternative Title(s): Artistic Licence Child Labour Laws, Artistic License Child Labour Laws