This article explores the moral dimensions of child labour as cultural practice in Northeast Brazil. It reveals a link between children's participation in labour and local constructions of childhood as a period of ontological uncertainty and impending transition. Through detailed ethnographic exegesis, the article reveals the symbolic dimensions surrounding children's engagement in productive endeavours, and shows how the local opposition between ‘work’ and ‘play’ arises out of an encompassing moral process. The article critiques the tendency within protectionist influenced anthropological literature to acknowledge the important contribution that children make towards material survival, while denying that contribution any deeper cultural significance.
- protectionist discourse