Debate Matters: Development


A compilation produced by the Singapore National Debate Team that participated in the 2012 World Schools Debating Championships and International Public Policy Forum

Series editor: Tan Teck Wei

Contributors: Teoh Ren Jie, Benjamin Mak Jia Ming, Darion Hotan, Kok Rabin, Chua Jun Yan, Tan Kuan Hian, Rohan Shah

Coach: Mrs. Geetha Creffield

Debate Matters: Development

Ladies and gentlemen, we will deliver a few key lines of analysis about the topic…


Pause what you are doing, and look around. Ask yourself this: out of all the things you see around you, how many of them would a child in Africa not have access to? It could be the laptop you are currently reading this on. It could be the classroom you are currently in, or the textbooks beside you. It could even be the clean drinking water in your water bottle. These, among many others, are luxuries that we tend to take for granted, even though many others around the world are not fortunate enough to have. Development is, in essence, about bringing all these to others around the world, and thereby developing a greater quality of life for them.

Human development does not have a universal or concrete definition, but it tends to be as all-encompassing as possible. Thus, when seeking to improve quality of life for other people around the world, we need to consider a spectrum of approaches and mechanisms. For example, contemporary approaches to reach the same goal of development range from providing healthcare, subsidizing education, imposing environmental standards, and empowering women. Within each of these targets, there are even more different ways we could go about doing the job. Hence, the topic of development is certainly a broad one: there are many ways we can contribute to development around the world.

Before we decide on the best path of development, we need to understand who we are trying to benefit. You may have heard of the terms developed and developing world; the specific definitions of these terms are open to differing interpretations. Nonetheless, this distinction is useful in describing the world as we see it. Developed countries are usually those with a higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP), are more industrially developed, and their citizens are relatively well-off. Basic needs, like food, water and shelter, are met, while education and healthcare are accessible to most, if not all, of us. On the other hand, developing countries lack a number of these things. Some developing countries are nonetheless better of than others, and so even within the category of these countries, there is a spectrum. For example, Ethiopia and India are both developing countries, but they are still fundamentally different societies and economies. In summary, development tends to be a process that starts from developed countries, through the sharing of their resources and expertise, that ends in the developing countries.

Why does finding the best path to development matter to us? Why do we need to care about the needs of people miles away? There is no single straightforward answer to this question. Development could be important to you because you believe in certain fundamental rights that all human beings are entitled to, such as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It could also be because you believe that no one should be forced to live in suffering and poverty in developing countries. Whatever this reason may be, the practical implication on a debate about development is easy to see: your arguments and your case must be about the citizens you are trying to help. Losing focus of who development is meant to aid can be disastrous in a debate, as it is in the real world.

If the aims of development are noble, why do people disagree and persist in debate? This is because the aims of either side in a debate are largely the same, but they disagree on the means by which to accomplish them. Similarly, teams debating the best path of development all have the welfare of the developing world at heart, but they disagree on how this welfare can be maximized. To round off this introduction, we have included some possible ways of thinking about such debates; this list is naturally not all-inclusive, but are good starting points when thinking about these issues.

Is this sustainable in the future? How do short term gains measure against future harms, or vice versa?


Is this an appropriate solution? Are these solutions suitable for the cultural, social or economic situation at hand?


Is this a fair solution? Is it fair for more developed actors to be a larger burden of solving the world’s problems?

We will now delve into the specific debate motions pertaining to development, where everything that has been discussed thus far will be brought to life. Onward!

The Debate:

Debate 1: THBT African problems require African solutions


This debate is likely to swing upon which side is better able to analyze Africa, with specific reference to the causes underlying the problems plaguing it. There are some unique characteristics that ought to be noted: first, Africa’s 54 nations have a history of colonization. This means that the borders of these countries are often arbitrary, based on politics of Europe at the time and subject to the decisions of Victorian cartographers.

Second, Africans are not a homogenous group of people- they come from hundreds of diverse tribal and ethnic groups, each with their own history and culture. As a result of the previous characteristic, however, a single group may span many countries and cross many borders, while one nation may include many different ethnic groups.

Third, the decolonization of African nations following the Second World War was in many instances a rushed and hurried affair. Hence, power vacuums were created in many nations, leading to the rise of authoritarian regimes as well as the propensity for sectarian violence, as there was no force to stop it. The common occurrence of military coups as a means of changing government has also undermined efforts for democratic change.


African problems

There are three broad categories under which Africa’s problems can be placed. First, there is conflict; the African continent is rife with civil war and ethnic violence. This often leads to massive refugee problems for the region. The emergence of terrorism as a new global threat and groups that operate from Africa have also led to extremist insurgencies across the nation.

Second, there is poverty. 36.2% of Africans live on less than USD 1 a day, making it by far the world’s poorest continent. This manifests itself in problems such as food shortage, drought, lack of adequate healthcare, education or infrastructure, all of which have contributed to low life expectancy across the country.

Third, authoritarianism and oppression have left many Africans deprived of human rights and liberties. Of the 54 African nations, only 15 are considered democratic, with many others being bywords for oppression, such as Zimbabwe, Chad, Sudan, e.t.c. The lack of democracy in Africa has led to some of the most egregious violations of human rights imaginable, such as mass rapes in the Congo and ethnic genocide in Rwanda or, more recently, South Sudan.

It is true, of course, that these categories of problems are all interlinked and affect each other. The failure of democratic institutions, or their absence, increases the likelihood of conflict, which in turn is responsible not only for gross transgressions of human liberty but also for instability that stunts the continent’s economic growth. Solutions to them must, therefore, be coordinated in some way. How teams decide to use these links is up to them.

Require African solutions

The categorization of solutions follows those of the problems: first, diplomacy and intervention to end conflicts. Second, economic development and effective aid distribution to combat poverty. Finally, bringing about democratic change and reform to stop oppression, by pressuring regimes into undertaking such reforms or by aiding existing local democratic movements.

By requiring African solutions, therefore, Prop argues that the problems identified would be more efficiently and swiftly dealt with by a) the countries themselves b) other African nations c) regional African organizations such as Ecowas, SADC, or the African Economic Union, as opposed to external actors such as the UN, NATO or the USA, by achieving the aims stated above.

However, this does not mean that only African nations and organizations should be involved; it means that interference and intervention from outside powers should be avoided, and that developmental/humanitarian aid should be given without conditions, and left to be directed and allocated by African nations themselves. In short, Africans must have the final say in how their countries are run, and not be beholden to the requirements or pressures of the international community.

In contrast, Opp should argue that external organizations are better suited to implementing and bringing about such change as is needed, and should be allowed to pressure African nations where necessary, even intervening if they deem they must.

Some concerns

Prop will probably try to paint Africa’s problems as due to the persisting effects of abrupt decolonization, and argue that many non-Africans will be hard-pressed to fully understand the intricacies of Africa and be rejected by Africans. Opp, on the other hand, should probably paint Africa’s problems as being caused by a succession of corrupt dictators who are unlikely to fall in the foreseeable future, and will be more concerned with lining their pockets than with Africans’ welfare.




African solutions are better for conflict resolution


Thesis: Africans are better at mediating African conflicts because they understand the issues underlying these conflicts better.

For fellow African leaders, the divide between ethnic groups within nations and the existing tensions that lead to conflict are better understood, as being of similar ethnicities, other African countries fully understand the cultural and historical background to the conflict. By contrast, external powers often tar the whole of Africa with one brush, regarding all Africans as similar without considering ethnic or cultural differences that often lead to conflict.

Hence, African countries are far better at negotiating an end to conflict, as they do not infringe upon cultural sensibilities of Africans unlike external forces might. Furthermore, African nations have a stronger understanding of why civil conflicts within nations arise, such as the historical territorial disputes between the Zulus and Xhosas in Southern Africa, allowing them to tailor mediation towards these specific issues.

Willingness to intervene: by reason of geographical proximity, African nations have much stronger interests in other African nations. Often, conflicts lead to refugee crises, e.g. Darfur, Somalia. The mass exodus of refugees into neighbouring countries place a strain on the infrastructure of such countries, e.g. Somlian refugees in the Dadaab camps in Kenya. As a result, they have a vested interest in ensuring that conflicts do not spiral out of control. By contrast, external forces do not have such a strong vested interest, and are hence easily deterred by their domestic politics, leading to a) lack of will to intervene b) interventions without full commitment. e.g. USA and Somalia, USA pulled out after Black Hawk Down incident, leaving Somalia mired in civil war.

Hence, African nations, with a keener understanding of evolving tensions coupled with an overwhelming national interest to prevent them from spiraling into conflict, are far more likely to step in to mediate early and also to, in necessary situations, send in troops, e.g. South Africa intervening in Lesotho, without half baked interventions. External forces are subject to the whims of domestic politics, and when they fail to commit to an intervention this leads to a massive escalation of conflict in the region, e.g. Somalia.


African solutions are not better for conflict resolution

External groups are separate from the myriad of cultural politics and are hence more willingly accepted as unbiased. The specifics and sensitivities of various cultures can be taught; it is impossible for an African to divide himself from his own ethnicity.

There are problems with African mediators: African tribes and cultures are spread across many countries, due to the arbitrary nature of national borders drawn during colonialization. The fact that previously warring tribes are placed within the same borders means that often, African conflict is tribally motivated (Hutus and Tutsis, Zulu and Xhosa, Merle and Nuer in South Sudan).

African mediators also have their own tribal affiliations and ethnicities. Due to a long history of tribal conflict in Africa, every tribe has some form of past relation with another tribe. Mediators from one tribe, however well-intentioned they may be, are often open to accusations of bias that lead conflicting tribal groups to disregard their efforts. e.g. Julius Nyerere, former President of Tanzania, was tasked with mediating conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi; however, Tutsis accused him of being biased towards the Hutus, an accusation lent credence due to the fact that Nyerere belonged to the Zanaki ethnic group, which had a history of tension with the Tutsis. As a result, mediation efforts by Nyerere in Burundi did not lead to tangible success.

Non-African powers are better at mediation because there is no possible accusation of cultural/ethnic bias. It is precisely because they are more divorced from the minefield of African tribal ties that they can legitimately claim to be unbiased. e.g. mediation in Mozambique, which was driven by UN.

When you have to intervene, this feeds rhetoric: precisely because other African nations have vested interests in conflict is the reason that African intervention is likely to support one particular group. In fact, these vested interests often lead to accusations of conquest no less vitriolic than those directed at Westerners; e.g. Kenya in Somalia

African solutions are better for conflict resolution (cont.)


Ability to intervene: against the opposition to be expected, African militaries are as good as, if not better than, those of external organizations.

Against opposing armies in conventional warfare for control of territory, the opposing armies are armed merely with small arms, some gun-mounted vehicles, at most a tank or two. For example, the military of South Africa is more than capable of taking out such forces using technology it already gets from the Western world, including jet fighters. The technological difference between African militaries and external forces is hence not significant in relation to this kind of opposition.

insurgencies, guerillas, and terrorists: faced with this kind of unconventional warfare, against insurgencies, once again the difference in technological capabilities between African militaries and external ones does not constitute a substantive difference, since insurgents aren’t exactly well equipped. What is needed to deal with insurgents is: a keen understanding of where insurgents might hide themselves, where more specific African knowledge comes in useful, and winning the battle of hearts and minds, gaining trust/support of locals, which is easier when those intervening are fellow Africans as opposed to the ‘Western imperialists’ terrorist groups/insurgents often vilify.

Therefore, African militaries are just as good at intervening, if not better, than foreign militaries.

In conclusion, fellow African nations/organizations have a better understanding of conflict situations, giving them greater ability to mediate such conflicts. They have a greater incentive to prevent the escalation of conflict, and when they intervene to do so they are more effective than foreign militaries. Therefore, in the area of African conflict, African solutions are definitely better and hence required.


African solutions are not better for conflict resolution (cont.)

Even if their motives were clear, African militaries are simply unable to cope. It is true that the fight against insurgency is often not conventional warfare; however, African militaries lack the requisite and often even more specialized training for counter-insurgency warfare (more specialized because emphasis on precision, work in small, cohesive units). Equipment as well often needs to be even more advanced for counter-insurgency, as precision and stealth are key. The tanks that South Africa possesses are no use; the drones that the USA commands are. Furthermore, weak democratic institutions in Africa itself (with only 15 African nations as democracies) make abuses by soldiers more likely. For example, even South Africa’s intervention in Lesotho, to date the only African to African nation intervention with a legitimate basis, is marred by reports of soldiers killing civilians and opposing forces that tried to surrender. Lack of training in crowd control also led to widespread rioting in Lesotho’s capital, further ravaging its stuttering economy.

Non-African nations are better when intervention is necessary. It is true that Somalia was a failed intervention- following the lessons of that time, however, Western powers have been far more committed to intervention when necessary. For example, French intervention in the Ivory Coast to remove Laurent Gbagbo from power succeeded. There is continuing UN support and UN peacekeepers for the conflict in Somalia, which is the only thing to have kept Mogadishu under the legitimate government’s control.

Where African militaries lack expertise and equipment, Western nations fill the gap. It is not true that all African wars are insurgencies; the previous example of Ivory Coast was not, and neither was the intervention in Libya, which required cruise missiles African nations certainly lack. Even for insurgencies, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, against precisely the kind of insurgency African nations might face, mean that Western militaries have soldiers trained and experience in counter-insurgency, as well as equipment tailored specifically to such asymmetrical warfare.

Finally, non-African powers, especially Western ones likely to intervene, have far stronger democratic institutions and emphasis on rights, meaning that abuses by soldiers are less likely to happen.

African solutions are better for economic growth


African nations have no choice but to accept aid, often from Western nations. This aid often comes with conditions attached, and these conditions hinder economic growth as they are not tailed to African needs.

For example, the Washington Consensus: fiscal austerity, trade liberalization (allowing MNCs in, removing all trade barriers), high interest rates, privatization, and capital market liberalization (e.g. removal of currency controls) based on neoliberal economic thought. e.g IMF and every single developing nation that has ever received aid from it. USA and Angola. IMF and Russia, IMF and Argentina, IMF and East Asia.

The idea behind these market reforms is that profit motive will lead to competition, and the self-correcting invisible hand will lead to efficient outcomes. However, the invisible hand works imperfectly when there is imperfect information and imperfect markets, which is especially the case is developing countries.

These circumstances don’t exist, hence the conditions are bad for these nations. Why?

(A) Imperfect information: reforms imposed by IMF largely include privatization of state industries (e.g. Russia, where everything used to be a state industry in the USSR) as soon as possible. Under systems where perfect information and transparency are achieved, this privatization should work, and state owned assets would be sold to the highest bidder. However, especially in African countries that are often not democratic (only 15 out of 54), the system of privatization is opaque and not released to the general public. with institutions such as the media, the courts and sometimes also the opposition often not very strong, officials in charge of privatization can easily fall prey to corruption.

As a result, state owned assets are sold off to people with strong connections to state officials, with many kickbacks, leading to a system of crony capitalism that does not benefit the people or abide by the principles of neo-liberalism. Either the assets are sold at less than their actual value, or they end up being run by organized crime with strong links to officials. e.g. in Nigeria, privatization of former national telecommunications company was marred by fraud, bribery and the failure to consider existing employees in the deal that was made.


African solutions are not better for economic growth


Stance: don’t make judgment on the Washington Consensus, but believe that Western aid and conditions are necessary to prevent huge corruption. Don’t stand for everything donors do, but believe that their aid and direction is far better than African corruption and mismanagement.

Cause of problem: Africa is extremely rich in resources. Since decolonization, however, it has been mired in poverty and suffered from economic mismanagement. The key reason why is that a country’s resources go towards lining the pockets of its officials instead of helping the people. Due to the lack of democratic checks and balances, corruption is widespread and exploitation of the country’s national resources rife.

If no conditions are imposed upon aid and officials are left to decide its use, all that will happen is ever greater corruption. The good thing about all aid donations is that they share a universal condition: the aid must go towards helping the people, whether this be building a hospital or a road or a school.

Imposing such conditions upon aid that African rulers must accept helps the people of Africa by providing the basic transport and educational infrastructure they need to pull themselves out of poverty.

In fact, if you leave the use of aid up to African rulers, chances are that even if they don’t embezzle it directly, they will pump it into state-owned companies that they have a direct stake in, or waste it on grandiose monuments, as has happened time and again with public funds.

Furthermore, foreign investment is a huge driver of African growth. It is true that in some instances, donors such as China impose specific conditions. However, this happens in a minority of instances- for the most part, the foreign investment creates jobs and businesses for the African people. Even when it does happen, jobs and growth still occur- in fact, the example of China and Nigeria simply proves that even more jobs were made, since oil fields that would otherwise have been left alone under Proposition would be operated by Chinese companies hiring local Africans. Without this foreign investment, Africa would suffer from an acute lack of capital and liquidity and find itself in even more dire economic straits.

African solutions are better for economic growth (cont.)


(B) Imperfect markets: IMF reform includes lowering of trade barriers, as well as deregulation of capital markets. This allows for foreign goods to flood local African markets without the added cost of tariffs, and without subsidies for local producers. The problem is that in countries at such low levels of development, local industries lose out to MNCs which can rely on economies of scale, existing logistical infrastructure and superior technical expertise.

This leads to a huge difference in what MNCs can afford to price their goods and what local industries can price their goods while still staying proftitable. as a result, cheap foreign goods (especially from China) are able to flood the market after deregulation, and without any protections for local industries, these industries are swiftly crowded out; for example Nigeria’s budding garment industry, which got pretty much crowded out after it liberalized and MNCs flooded the market with goods from Bangladesh. The result is that local industries are suffocated, leading to less jobs for locals. Furthermore, it undermines attempts to create local industries that often become engines of growth for the entire nation.

(C) The deregulation of capital markets leads to the flow of speculative money into the country as investors bet on whether or not the economy or certain industries will grow, really fast since the IMF demands abrupt deregulation in developing nations. With so much money coming into the country, inflation rises. Given the IMF’s stance on inflation (keep it as low as possible), and the conditions worked into loans, rising inflation will trigger fiscal austerity and higher interest rates in an attempt to limit the flow of money. Fledgling businesses and poor families find it much harder to borrow the money needed to keep going. This leads to a rise in bankruptcy or closure of business in these African nations, which also feeds into unemployment. This is exacerbated because fiscal austerity removes any form of social safety net for those who are hit. Finally, foreign investors are quick to withdraw their capital in light of such circumstances, leading to a much less well-off country. e.g. Thailand in the East Asian Financial Crisis, where IMF imposed these loan conditions and George Soros took the chance to make a lot of money by destroying the Thai economy.

As a result, international policies don’t work, instead harming African economies.

African solutions are better at creating democracy


African dictators remain in power first by controlling powerful institutions such as the military, but also with a strong propaganda system that blames troubles on external forces.

Hence, Western pressure fuels rhetoric. In many autocratic regimes, democracy/women’s rights are portrayed as evil concepts that the Western imperialists are trying to impose on an African nation or culture. When external forces (often the West) decide to pressure governments towards democratic reform, with e.g. sanctions, dictators are able to claim that the West is refusing to help the poor and destitute, and do not really care about the citizens. Rallying cries are created by leaders to go against the West, including Western notions of right and wrong, and this leads to the poisoning of democracy as a concept in the minds of citizens.

More perfidiously, when dissent has already started within countries, Western support is often portrayed as an imperialist attempt to take over the country. With fears still playing in the minds of Africans over how the USA invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, the creation of fears over a Western takeover is a powerful tool dictators can use in their arsenal. For example, Gaddafi constantly blamed all and sundry external forces for the unrest in Libya, as has Assad in Syria. With the powerful machine of propaganda in such undemocratic states, the Western association as an outsider may well hamper all attempts at inspiring democracy.

By contrast, Africans inspire trust. When it is instead African organizations that apply this pressure, it cuts out a lot of possible dictator rhetoric about imperialism, moral superiority and so forth. This stops the fears of a Western takeover, decreasing the opposition to regime change as citizens are confident that their country will remain.

More importantly, African organizations have more influence over autocratic leaders. Many autocratic leaders count on the idea of regional affirmation, that fellow Africans believe him a legitimate leader, to actually portray legitimacy to his people. e.g. al-Bashir and Sudan.


African solutions are not better at creating democracy


The problem with African solutions is that most other African nations are just as non-democratic. Dictators tend to support other dictators over democratic change, since they fear similar change in their own countries.

Most African countries are non-democratic. As such, any regional bloc attempting to make a statement about democratic movements in, for example, Syria is automatically hamstrung by the fact that a significant number of its members might be facing or be worried about similar local challenges to the regime, e.g Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and their Shia population. The fact that dictators count on other African nations for support is proof of this: they know that other similarly undemocratic nations are far more likely to support them.

This is particularly problematic when considering that regional African organizations designed to foster positive change are similarly led by non-democratic regimes. For example, Obasanjo of Nigeria (an ex-military ruler) and Gaddafi were ex-chairmen of the African Union. This hamstrings its ability to push for tough but necessary change. Most notably, the AU stood against the world in opposing the no-fly zone over Libya and assisting the Libyan rebels.

Even when you do have groups that push for democratic change, the response of a regime is no different from its response to Westerners: that they ought not to interfere, that the protesters are terrorist rebels, and so forth. In fact, democracy itself is seen as a Western idea, such that even when one African nation supports it that African nation is deemed to be a mere puppet of the West, as Bashr al-Assad called South Africa.

The difference for external organizations such as the UN is that they are fundamentally committed to democratic principles and human rights. Also, they have stronger and more internationally recognized democratic institutions that help lend credence and momentum to fledgling democracies, not only within the nation itself but also for the international community.

To suggest that African dictators will call for democracy in other African dictatorships is naïve in the extreme, and simply will not happen. As a result, regional voting blocs usually have a majority against this democratic movements.

African solutions are better at creating democracy (cont.)


When African organizations publicly reject a figure whom they have traditionally accepted, it very strongly signals to the people of that country that their leader has lost the faith of those whose support he once used as a reason for his power. It is a clear indication that his actions are so deplorable that even a group that historically has not condemned him will now do so, and this weakens the leader’s popular cult/moral grasp over the country immensely.

Either this action itself helps precipitate the support required to topple the leader, or the threat of such action is sufficient to gain significant concessions. e.g. Arab League, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

As a result, Western powers cannot try to bring about or support existing democratic movements as this merely fuels the rhetoric of authoritarian leaders, whereas African nations are able to send very strong messages not just to dictators but also to their people about the atrocities a dictator is committing and about the importance of democracy, giving them the ability to extract concessions that would otherwise have been impossible to get.

Debate 2: THW legalize child labour in the developing world.


This is a an example of a debate that implicitly refers to a specific context for us to debate in; clearly, it would not make good socio-economic sense for Singaporean students to pull out of school tomorrow, and start finding work! Instead, child labour could most reasonably be justified in developing countries. This is where it is most common anyway, and it is within this context that child labour could possibly reap benefits.

The understanding behind this debate is that neither side can reach a perfect outcome. Thus, the proposition needs to prove that child labour, while not ideal, is principally justified and in the best interests of the child. On the other hand, the opposition needs to counter by showing that child labour is more detrimental to the child, and that it would be better for him/her if child labour was not employed in the developing world.


Child labour is defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations’ Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as any minor working more than a certain number of hours a week. Hence, the legal definition of child labour in each country depends on (a) the age of majority and (b) the number of hours a week that defines child labour.

Child labour thus usually refers to minors who take up a permanent job, such as working in factories, fishing vessels, plantations, among others. It is good to bear in mind that this work will usually interfere with their education, either by forcing them to drop out of school or combine their school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.

Prop policy:

The policy on Proposition needs to endorse some form of child labour, but should be a nuanced and well-regulated policy that aims to maximize the benefits while minimizing the costs to the child. A possible model to follow would include:

1.  Legalize child labour in the developing world, and legitimize it in these select instances

2.  Regulate child labour: laws on workplace safety, providing basic amounts of food and sleep as per the needs of children, outlawing reckless endangering of children (like other workers)

3.  Limit the forms of child labour: no child prostitutes, bondage, slavery – these are not part of the real-world definition of child labour, and are inherently exploitative

4.  Provide avenues of escape: regular checks on companies using child labor

Opp policy:

The policy on Opposition clearly cannot endorse child labour. However, at the same time, it should provide some alternatives that it stands for. This allows it to stand for a world with solutions to the problems that the developing world faces, rather than sounding unreasonable when saying “no child labour”. A possible model to follow would include:

1.  Do not stand for child labour: no legalization, or legitimization.

2.  Alternative toolbox of solutions: development projects, compulsory education, better health policies, birth control, higher quality schooling, targeted subsidies to encourage families to send children to school, etc.




Child labour protects the rights of children by enabling them to survive.


The rights of the child are important, but but like all rights, they exist based on priorities. When resources are limited, we need to secure basic rights first.

At the same time, in the developing world, basic rights are often not currently fulfilled. The poorest parts of the developing world live in poverty, without enough food, and are forced to live from hand to mouth.

Child labor helps children to fulfill basic rights better, because it allows children to supplant the income of their family, helping to put food on the table. This allows these children and families to survive these harsh conditions.

In fact, because we often cannot send every child to school, some element of child labor pays for the education of a few and helps the family in increasing their income in the long-run.

Child labor also helps as a temporary solution to tide families through crises, before returning to school to continue their schooling. For example, in the 1990s, in Vietnam, 80% of child labor was in agriculture. When trade barriers went down, prices went up, and child labor went down accordingly as families were relatively better off.

Therefore, child labor is effective and crucial in helping families and children survive, by securing their future without sacrificing today’s needs.

A ban on child labour protects the child and his rights.

Children have rights, more than adults, because they are less capable than adults of protecting themselves. In the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children are protected from abuse, and cannot be treated as possessions or chattels

These rights are important and need to be upheld because parents do not always make the best decisions for their children, and these rights protect the child from abuse and harm in these cases.

Child labour clearly violates these rights and hurts the child.

When deciding to work, parents have more leverage over the child. They have the ability, through their emotional bond, to compel the child to work. Often, they also have full control over selling a child off. This means that the true consent of the child is often not present when he decides to work. Even if they do agree to work, in the workplace, children are less capable of resisting abuse, running away, or reporting abuse, because they are more easily intimidated and physically controlled.

This work causes permanent harm to the child’s development and growth: the workplace is often very dangerous, in particular the jobs that children are needed to fill. For example, diving down to the coral reefs to attach nets, because only children are small enough to get down deep. The pressure permanently harms their body, and many children end up attacked by carnivorous and poisonous fishes. Similarly, an ILO report in 2002 found that 179 million children are currently trapped in child labour that endangers the child’s physical, mental or moral well-being.

Even when the work is not in itself dangerous, children need more rest and nutrition in their growing years, and this is unlikely to happen when they are needed to work a sizable amount of time a day to maintain economic value.

Furthermore, parents end up having an economic incentive to sell their children as labor for money, rather than necessity. For example, Brazil in 1990s, when coffee prices went up, child labour rates went up as well, and school attendance went down, because parents used this opportunity to profit.

The child labour market protects children from worse exploitation.


Because of the sheer poverty in developing world, the desperation of families means that children will always need to be a source of income. (32% of workforce in Africa and 22% in Asia are children, despite its illegality)

Therefore, the best thing we can do is to ensure children are not exploited, and gives them the best chance for development in the future. This means we need to protect them from bondage, work without pay, being sold into servitude, or excessively dangerous work.

Legalizing the child labor market combats exploitation, because:

Resources spent enforcing can be better used to make workplaces safer, and without punishing parents for their poverty instead. For example, in Thailand, knowledge or connivance of child labor = 4-20 years prison for parents, fine of 80,000 to 400,000 baht. In the Philippines it’s a 5000 pesos fine, 6 months jail.

Making child labor illegal forces parents to respond by sending children to kids in informal sector, which is often more dangerous, because they want to avoid getting caught. With a legal market alternative, we will be able to regulate workplaces and provide a safer option for parents. Parents will be less likely to take the illegal option, even if it pays more, because of the risk analysis – parents know that it’s dangerous to send children to black market sectors, and what they need most is a stable income. Given that the legal option provides this with far less risk, parents are less likely to send children to more dangerous forms of child labor.

Thus, a legal child labor market better protects children from exploitation.

Child labour hurts the economic development of the country.


Child labor prevents children from attending school over a sustained period of time, because they spend most of their time and energy recuperating and working, leaving nothing much for schooling. Furthermore, they often have to work substantial hours to be economically productive for the employer. For example, Sierra Leone and Niger, 78% child labor %, about 30% school attendance.

This results in a less educated workforce in the future, without the basic literacy/numeracy skills to take on more advanced jobs.

Without these skills, citizens will lack the ability to take on better jobs, and thus be locked into the same low-paying industry as before.

This leads to a poverty trap, where individuals are never able to improve their position.

ILO estimates that banning child labor and educating all children would raise the world’s total income by 22% over 20 years, because of the economic boost of primary and lower secondary education, as well as health benefits.

Hence, since child labor sacrifices the future development of our human capital and economic development, a ban on child labor is necessary.

Legalizing child labour gives children the real-world skills needed to survive.


In the developing world, support structures, where adults take care of their children’s welfare, are not always present. This could be because of parents who are forced to work far away from their homes, or who die young due to AIDS or other diseases. Furthermore, state welfare for orphans or underprivileged children is usually non-existent, because of a lack of resources.

In these cases, children are often forced to take care of themselves, and their siblings, at an extremely young age. This is not an ideal circumstance, but legalizing child labour helps these children survive.

Compared to traditional education, child labour allows children the opportunity to pick up trades or work skills. These enable them to find jobs despite not having literacy or a full education. Furthermore, child labour helps children develop a sense of the real world through the work experience they obtain.

This enables them to survive better in the absence of parents or guardians, because minors who have experienced some form of child labour will be better able to hold down a job for himself, as well as make decisions for his siblings if needed. This gives a significant number of broken families the best opportunity to survive the loss of one or both parents, and thus should be legalized.

Legalizing child labour makes it harder to protect the child.


The legalization of child labor is tantamount to the government legitimizing the act. This encourages and endorses parents treating children as economic instruments, or tools for income.

This makes it harder for us to protect children from other forms of abuse in society. It encourages parents to sell their children into worse occupations with more lucrative payouts, in order to maximize the income of the child, such as prostitution, marriage, factory work. It also encourages more to offer these illegal jobs, because they justify their approach with the same economic logic of proposition. The state has already legitimized the trade-off between welfare of child and economic necessity, so both parties are going to be more likely to do so.

It also makes it harder for parents to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate occupations for their children. Most of them are not educated, very vulnerable. In the status quo, there are already many who are tricked into child or human trafficking in the developing world with the promise of a better life, thinking it’s a legitimate venture. This is going to be worse when they are expected to distinguish between legal and illegal forms of child labor, as compared to an outright ban on all child labor and education that all forms are illegal.

Since legalizing child labor hampers our ability to protect children from worse abuse, we would not legalize it.

Debate 3: THW tie development aid to environmental standards.


Prop policy:

Proposition teams must consider the following questions in their model or policy. Given the fiasco surrounding environmental negotiations in Copenhagen (2009) and Mexico City (2010), it is vital for the Proposition to demonstrate that a fair and equitable arrangement acceptable to all parties is feasible in the real world.

What are the types of aid being discussed? (note the distinction between developmental aid, which is used to promote long-term economic growth, and humanitarian aid, which is used to alleviate immediate suffering after a natural disaster)

Through what channels do these types of aid reach their recipients? NGOs like Red Cross or Oxfam? International organizations like World Bank and IMF?

What are the environmental standards which will be used? (e.g. United Nations Environmental Program / Kyoto protocol) 

Who will objectively and accurately assess whether these standards are met? How will they do so?

Opp policy:

For the sake of consistency, the clearest line for opposition to argue is that developmental aid should always be given unconditionally. To demonstrate how environmental problems can be solved in their paradigm, opposition could suggest alternative mechanisms by which environmental protection can be upheld in developing countries. For instance, this could include the transfer of environmentally-friendly technology from richer to poorer nations. Nonetheless, opposition teams must ensure that the mechanisms they propose do not contract the principles they enshrine in their constructive arguments. For example, threatening economic sanctions or tariffs against polluting countries would go against an argument about how developing countries should be allowed to develop first and take care of the environment later.




Developing nations have an equal duty to uphold environmental standards and should be penalized if they fail to do so.


At its heart, development is about protecting the welfare of the people. Environmental protection is not exclusive to this aim, because the effects of environmental damage directly compromise the quality of life of locals.

First, pollution severely threatens the health of people. An asthmatic child in Beijing literally chokes to death from the impenetrable smog in the air; a person living drinking tainted water from the Mekong River risks developing cancer.

Second, environmental degradation tears apart homes and habitats.  When forests are indiscriminately cut down, indigenous peoples are displaced; when soil erosion occurs, farmland becomes barren and destroys livelihoods.

Third, climate change and global warming fuels natural disasters which ravage developing nations and claim lives. Hence, it is an issue which must be mitigated at all costs. We have already seen the powerful effects of global warming in action during Hurricane Katrina and Cyclone Nargis.

Worse, 3rd-party harm from environmental damage accrues to other nations as well, because air and water pollution knows no borders. This is fundamentally unjust to countries that do not pollute and must be stopped.

While the first world may have developed at the expense of the environment, the crucial distinction is that it had no knowledge of the harms it was precipitating. Humanity ought to have learnt its lesson and its developmental trajectory should reflect this.

Consequently, development without attention to environmental protection is irresponsible and dangerous. However, governments are often too blinded by short-term realities and the demands of a hungry electorate to do what is best for their country.

Hence, developmental aid ought to nudge governmental policy in developing countries in the right direction.

Developing nations have a right to prioritize economic growth over environmental protection.


There is almost always a trade-off to be made between the economy and the environment. Building a factory means cutting down trees; expanding the transport system means increasing air pollution. In the case of developing countries, environmental damage is inevitable in achieving growth. This is because growth necessarily entails a shift from low-value agricultural activities to more intensive secondary industries. Moreover, these countries lack the money and expertise to introduce environmentally-friendly solutions which are more expensive.

It is unfair to expect developing nations to uphold the same environmental standards as the first world, because developed countries accumulated its wealth through rapid industrialization which caused present-day environmental degradation in the first place. Developing countries should not be denied the same opportunity to grow.

Moreover, the developed world is actually liable for most environmental problems in the third world. The most polluting factories are funded by first-world consumers and controlled by MNCs headquartered in major cities.  Even till today, developed countries fail to uphold their obligations under international environmental agreements and refused to be held to account. Consequently, it is unjustified to expect developing countries to bear full responsibility for environmental problems.

Given that most developing nations dependent on foreign aid for survival, tying aid to the environment equates to functionally compelling them to choose the environment over economic growth.

This is particularly damning because the basic needs of citizens in the third world are still not being met – up to 2 billion people still live below the UN poverty line of $2 a day. Hence, the foremost goal of governments in the developing world should (legitimately) be on alleviating this immediate suffering and improving the standard of living of the people which elects them. Even though the environment is important as well, the long-term implications of climate change and pollution come second to the pressing and direct needs of the people.

Therefore, it is unfair to force developing countries to meet environmental standards in order to gain access to developmental aid.

Tied aid promotes long-term economic growth.


Slower development which is environmentally sustainable ends up being more beneficial in the long run.

Why? Economic growth which fails to account for environmental standards often entails exploiting and extracting resources (be in fertile land, forest, oil or coal) in the quickest rate possible. This is done without regard for whether the resource is able to naturally renew and replenish itself.

Because these industries are so lucrative, companies have little incentive to diversity into higher-value economic activities. Amongst companies, the profit motive dictates that they try to gain as much as possible from a country’s resources before a competitor reaps the benefits (read more on the Tragedy of the Commons).  

Eventually, the resources that the country depends on will run out due to unsustainable use.  With no alternative to turn to, economic stagnation and decline occurs.

As such, any sustainable model of development must meet sound environmental standards. An important mechanism for ensuring this is to tie developmental aid to environmental protection.

Tied aid hinders long-term environmental protection.


When developing countries are forced to adopt stringent environmental standards at the expense of growth in order to gain access to aid, citizens and governments perceive environmentalism to be a neocolonial imposition on their independence and autonomy.

Consequently, the aim of developing countries becomes to gain aid as quickly as possible by superficially and dogmatically adhering to environmental standards. Outside the purview of these indices, these countries have no regard for the environment. This is problematic, because the environment covers such a broad scope of factors that no set of standards can possible cover all of them.

Worse, developing countries have a perverse incentive to cover-up environmental abuses by concealing them – a problem which is hard to resolve due to endemic corruption and enforcement problems under such circumstances.

In contrast, our model allows the local population to progressively buy into the principles of environmentalism as it becomes wealthier and gains the means to care for and protect its surroundings. This gradual uptake of conservationism permits civil society to pressure their governments into becoming truly environmentally-friendly through advocacy and campaigning. It also increases the chances of success of environmental initiatives by winning over the support and adherence of the people.

In sum, the path to truly sustainable growth is one without tied aid.

Developed nations have no duty to give aid and are legitimate in using aid to further their own interests, including that of environmentalism. 


The premise of this argument is that the foremost duty of any government is to protect its own people. This is because governments derive their legitimacy from the consent of those which elect them and fund its activity through taxes.

Aid is no different in this regard and ought to be used strategically as a foreign policy tool  to advance the interests of the donor nation.

Given that the polluting practices  of the third world harm the citizens of the first world (as w have proven above), governments of developed countries have a right to defend their own interests by urging developing nations to adopt more stringent environmental standards.

If this requires the tying of developmental aid to environmental standards, we would be prepared to do it.

Developed nations have an inherent duty to give aid to poorer countries; hence, aid should not be used as an instrument to achieve other goals.


The wealth of a nation is based on morally arbitrary circumstances – it is through the lottery of geography and history that a country is situation on a piece of land endowed with mineral resources, or at a strategic location near shipping routes. 

Therefore, it can never be truly said that a developed country truly earned its riches. Vice versa, it is inherently unfair that some nations are disadvantaged by factors beyond their control.

Consequently, developed countries have a duty to compensate for these accidental circumstances by sharing the benefits they have reaped with the less fortunate.

Furthermore, developed nations are often responsible for the plight of poorer countries. For instance, the legacy of colonial abuse and exploitation continues to foster tribal conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa and prevent sustained growth. Therefore, developed nations have a duty to recompense for past wrongs.

One important instrument by which this can be accomplished is through the provision of developmental aid.   Because this is an inherent duty that developed countries have to developing ones, however, aid should not be used to further any particular agenda, including that of environmentalism. Hence, it is immoral and unjust for developmental aid to be tied to environmental standards.

Debate 4: THW remove patents for AIDS drugs in the developing world



The bulk of HIV/AIDS infections and eventual casualties occur in developing countries; in 2007, the WHO estimated that 76% of HIV/AIDS-related deaths occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa. Given the extent of poverty in these nations, many afflicted with HIV/AIDS cannot afford the lifelong therapy of antiretrovirals needed to manage HIV/AIDS.

It is in this context, that we consider the removal of patents on AIDS drugs. Currently, pharmaceutical companies that originate from developed nations patent new drugs so that, for a period that usually lasts from 7-12 years, these companies have a monopoly on the production and sale of that drug. The rationale given is that these new drugs are the intellectual property of these companies, and that these companies must be allowed to recoup the colossal costs of R&D. This monopoly thus allows a pharmaceutical to control the price of the drug for the period of the patent.

In a world without patents, other drug manufacturers would be allowed to produce the same drug. As a result of the competition, the price of the drug would be driven downwards. These drugs would then, presumably be affordable to HIV/AIDS patients in the developing world.

Operating in the background of this entire debate is the shadow of what HIV/AIDS is. Is it an incurable disease that patients will always be consigned to managing with lifelong, costly therapy? Or is it in fact, a disease with a cure that is within our reach with R&D continuing. In Germany, a man who received experimental bone marrow transplant in 2007 has reportedly been cured of AIDS completely. The HIV can no longer be found in his blood.

Bear in mind that many of the arguments below swing at the fulcrum of characterization/context. Consider these questions and others on the status quo during prep:

  • What is the behavior of pharmaceuticals like in the developing world? Altruistic or mercenary? A bit of both?
  • What sorts of drugs are available in the status quo to developing countries? The reasonably functional, the grossly outmoded or the top-of-the-line? Why is it any of these cases?
  • What is the nature of the HIV/AIDS epidemic? Is the threat receding or is it just as dangerous today as it was 2 decades ago? What are the modern problems in managing HIV in the developing world?


What is more important in the fight against HIV/AIDS ⎯ Incentivizing further R&D or Ensuring affordability today? The question that underpins this question is whether the two are mutually exclusive or if either team can better maximizes these two goods.

Strategic concerns:

The Proposition must decide in prep if they plan on removing the patents in developing countries alone or if they would extend the policy to developed countries as well. Both stances have strategic implications. Should you choose the former, a team would have to defend against the accusation of a inconsistency of principle; the impoverished in the developed world have just as much trouble securing their treatment as those in the developing world, the Opposition may argue. Should you choose the latter, the arguments that R&D would become unprofitable become particularly resonant as there would be no market where these firms would not be undercut.

The Opposition can include a buffer in their model that they would tighten patent law to prevent exploitative extensions of patents. It would be helpful to illustrate the feasibility of making patent law airtight by showing existing trends in the direction. This would counteract the weight of some the Proposition’s rhetoric and argumentation that patents eventually last forever, preventing developing nations from ever getting the drugs they need.




People in developing countries will be saved.

The poor in the developing world need these drugs to continue surviving. There is a need for the most recent of drugs because HIV is becoming increasingly resistant to the first-generation of drugs that are no longer protected under patents. In addition these first-generation drugs come with debilitating side effects that remove HIV/AIDS sufferers quality of life.

To deprive them of these drugs is to remove their ability to live lives of dignity ⎯ that all human beings deserve ⎯ on account of where their poverty and where they were born.  These circumstances were beyond their control and such deprivation is unfair.

They do not get access to these new drugs because they are too expensive for NGOs, hospitals and governments to distribute in these nations.

This was the precise cause of the massive protests in Rabat, Morocco ⎯ a only marginally democratic state ⎯ against the high prices of such drugs.

If patents are removed, no pharmaceutical will have monopoly over the sale of the drug.

Generic drug companies local to developing countries will be able to produce the drugs at a far cheaper cost than the pharmaceuticals because manufacturing these drugs is in fact very cheap. The drug will thus become more affordable to buy and distribute

AIDS triple-combination therapy, which costs US$ 10 000 per patient per year in industrialized countries, can now be obtained from Indian generic drugs company, Cipla, for less than US$ 200 per year

Thus, the people in developing countries who are desperately in need, will no longer have to suffer the degradation of their dignity and lives.

Pharmaceuticals’ right to intellectual property must be upheld.

The right to property arises because we acquire property on account of our efforts

The reason we own the land we bought is because the money we used to buy it is the product of our labour

Similarly, new antiretrovirals are the product of a pharmaceutical’s labour. In its creation went the efforts of countless researchers, financiers, etc.

Because it is their property, they have the right to seek out protection of that property and for that protection to be respected.

When governments start taking away patent protections, it is saying that other people can make claims on your property

This is the equivalent of the rest of society staking claim on what brought your property about in the first place: your labour.

Therefore the abolition of patents is morally equivalent to the enslaving of those researchers by society and cannot be tolerated.

R&D by pharmaceuticals is in fact sped up by removing patents.


Patents hinder the introduction of ‘generic’ drugs – anti-retroviral drugs manufactured by smaller, local companies.

Paracetamol is a generic drug – it has exactly the same chemical composition as Panadol but is manufactured by many companies worldwide as patent rights to the chemical composition have expired.

Generic drug companies drive R&D in two ways.

Firstly, they can take on R&D on a smaller scale themselves, piggybacking on the unpatented developments made by larger pharmaceuticals

Secondly, by producing the same drug as big pharmaceuticals, they create competition for these pharmaceuticals.

In order to maintain their profits and status as market-leaders, pharmaceuticals will now have to speed up R&D as the differentiating gap between them and the generic drug companies would have narrowed.

R&D will be compromised by the removal of patents

R&D is crucial in combating HIV/AIDS. New drugs and new combinations are crucial in easing the debilitating side effects of antiretroviral drugs, increasing the degree of inhibition of the virus ie. Increasing life-span, decreasing the chances of secondary infection, etc. Some new drugs have even been shown to have preventive effects. None of these developments are possible without continued R&D

Triple-combination HIV therapy was only made possible after the development of the drug Saquinavir which began in 1987 and only bore fruit in 1995.

R&D is immensely costly. This is because of the inherent costs of employment, equipment, administering trials, etc. Secondly, there are several drugs that fail completely in R&D; the capital invested in these drugs is never recouped because they never become viable products. Therefore, for every new successful product, there are the added costs of every failure the led to the eventual product.

Therefore, the cost to a pharmaceutical developing a drug far outweigh the cost of merely manufacturing.

The research costs of a standard anti-retroviral drug for instance, are estimated at over US$ 400 billion

Therefore, a pharmaceutical can thus be easily outcompeted by generic drug companies in terms of price as generic drug companies have far lower costs because they only manufacture

Therefore, in a world without patents, a pharmaceutical will not be able to make a profit on newly developed drugs.

There will thus be no incentive for them to develop these drugs

Patents in the developed world are insufficient to ensure profitability because HIV/AIDS is becoming a rarity in the developed world; the market for these drugs has shrunk significantly.

Therefore, the only viable means of securing more R&D is the maintenance of patents in the developing world.

Patents are prone to exploitation that worsens the HIV/AIDS crises

When patents are in place, pharmaceuticals will strive to keep them in place as long as possible.

This is because this would allow them to maintain their monopoly and thus their supernormal profits for an even longer span of time.

Consequently, pharmaceuticals will make small changes to the product or the manufacturing process that would make their drug eligible for a new patent.

Therefore, the patent will be extended indefinitely. This process is called evergreening.

Governmental regulation on such exploitation is difficult because pharmaceuticals will always look for loopholes in the regulations and tweak their product accordingly.

In the past, drug companies would merely change the colour of the casing of the drug in order to evergreen their patent. When regulation tightened, they began changing non-critical aspects of the drug like the concentration of water, the means of administration, etc.

Therefore, regulation is at best reactive rather than proactive to the new methods of exploitation that companies find.

Therefore, HIV/AIDS patients in developing world are likely to continue receiving old-generation antiretrovirals as they will not be able to afford the newer drugs.

This will worsen the plight of HIV/AIDS sufferers in the developing world who will have to wait even longer to get drugs at an affordable price, if ever at all.

Pharmaceuticals will be driven to keeping the fruits of their R&D “trade secrets”

In IP law, there exist several types of legal protections of intellectual property. One of these is patents and the other, is “trade secret” protection.

Patents function on the disclosure of information; Pharmaceuticals disclose information about their product, manufacturing process, etc. and agree that their monopoly on that product will cease after a period of time in return for a wider ambit of legal protections.

“Trade secrets” allow companies to maintain the secrecy of the process and product indefinitely, albeit with fewer legal protections in the event the secret is found out.

Currently pharmaceuticals prefer to patent their developments because they are confident that they will recoup their R&D losses within the timeframe of the patent. Therefore, pharmaceuticals prefer the wider legal protections of a patent over the indefinite timeframe of trade secrets.

If we remove patents, pharmaceuticals no longer have the guarantee of recouping their costs.

Pharmaceuticals will thus be more inclined to protecting innovations through trade secrets because this will allow them to recover the losses they made in R&D

This is a bad thing because this means that information on how to develop certain drugs and improvements in the manufacturing process will no longer be shared with the entire industry

Therefore the existing framework of R&D where pharmaceutical piggybacks on the research of each other will not exist.

The development of new and better drugs will thus take longer, meaning more people suffering and dying of HIV/AIDS in the interim.

Debate 5: THW cancel the debts of developing nations



The debts of developing nations refers to the foreign debt owed to external creditors by the governments of those nations. This includes the repayment of financial and developmental loans, as well as debt transferred from former colonial powers to their former colonies. External creditors include individual countries, as in the case of the debt Haiti owed to France as the price of independence, as well as international monetary institutions, as in the lending schemes offered by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Often, this external debt is crippling to the economies of developing nations which cannot afford to repay, especially with the relatively high interest rates attached to loans.

Initiatives seeking to cancel or reduce developing nations’ debts have been attempted by various parties before. This includes individual state actors, as in the case of France’s reduction of Haiti’s debt in the 1800s, and global activist groups like the Jubilee Debt Coalition, which calls for the abolition of ‘unpayable’ debt.

The central questions of this debate are:

  1. Who, in principle, should shoulder the burden of debt?
  2. What is best for the developing world?
  3. What are the effects of debt cancellation on the developed world and the international community?


We advocate a complete abolition of all external debt owed by all developing nations. This will be a once-off policy; loans undertaken after this cancellation takes effect must be repaid. We also support ongoing global efforts to improve the transparency and fairness of all loans made by corporations, governments, and international financial institutions, such that future loans can be made in a just fashion.


We stand for a variety of possible measures to help the developing world with its debt burden, including the restructuring of debt, reduction or cancellation of interest, and extending the time period across which the sum must be repaid. However, the principal sum must be repaid.




Debt cancellation is the duty of the developed world

Thesis: the developing world should not be forced to adhere to agreements it had no control over.

We hold individuals responsible for their own actions. This principle is extended to democratic states – if the people of a nation have chosen a particular government to represent their interests and make agreements on their behalf, then they are responsible for the actions of that government.

However, the vast majority of developing nations currently saddled with debt are non-democracies. This means that citizens of those nations had no control over the financial agreements made by their dictatorial rulers.

The problem is that debt repayment often incurs great costs to the citizens of developing nations. Developing nations that have emerged from the dictatorial regimes that incurred the debt in the first place are forced to utilize their own financial reserves and taxpayers’ money to repay, while in developing nations which are still ruled by dictatorships, dictators simply increase taxes or divert resources to finance debt repayment, ignoring the harm caused to their people.

Thus it is unjust in principle to force the burden of debt repayment onto a people who had no say in the creation of that debt in the first place.

However, this injustice is even more severe in the case of developing nations’ debt, for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, because developed nations which gave loans to dictatorial regimes often knew these loans would be used to fund brutal and oppressive practices, or that large portions of the loans would be siphoned off through corruption. This happened in the case of South Africa, where lenders essentially fueled the Apartheid regime; it is unconscionable that South Africa was forced to repay the very loans used to brutalize them. This was also seen in Zimbabwe, where the Ian Smith regime borrowed heavily to finance military spending to maintain its fragile grip on the nation through violence and terror; creditors in the developed world knew full well where the money was going.

Canceling debt is unfair to the developed world

Thesis: it is unfair in principle to deny citizens of the developed world what is rightfully theirs

Monetary loans are fundamentally taken out of the pockets of citizens in the developed world. Whether it comes from governments, in which case they are extracted from taxpayer’s money, or from corporations, in which case they are the property of the owners and shareholders of those companies, they are the property of citizens.

Citizens of the developed world deserve to have their money returned to them. This is especially relevant to developed nations struggling to deal with financial troubles brought about by the recent financial crisis. The repayment of loans goes to funding welfare programs in the developed world which support the poor and needy.

Furthermore, the loans made to developing nations did bring about benefits. Other than direct developmental loans which contributed to infrastructure building, even monetary loans used by dictators to support their regimes were paradoxically better for citizens of those countries.

This is because the dictator’s alternative to using funds from external creditors would have been to extort that amount from his people; hence, the loans actually allowed them to retain a greater portion of their property.

Thus, there is a principle obligation for the developing world to pay off its debts.

Debt cancellation is the duty of the developed world (cont.)


Secondly, because of the legacy of colonialism. After former colonies declared independence from their colonial masters, they were often forced to pay reparations or shoulder part of the colonial masters’ debt in return for independence. France forced Haiti to pay 150 million francs in return for French recognition of Haiti as an independent state.


Thirdly, because the developed world is responsible for the creation of monetary institutions that cripple the developing world. Institutions like the World Bank and the IMF impose conditions on monetary loans that cripple developing economies, which will be further explained later.


Thus, it is unjust to compel a person to pay for the actions of another, and it is the duty of the developed world to cancel debt because it was complicit in the creation of poverty and suffering.

Debt cancellation gives the developing world the freedom to grow

Thesis: debt cancellation removes a massive financial burden from the developing world

To finance debt repayment, developing countries divert their national financial resources to pay off debt.

This is highly problematic because it means a reduction of spending on social services. In developing countries like Angola, Liberia and Lebanon, total external debt dwarfs government expenditure on public services. In 2004, Ecuador spent 12% of its GDP paying off debts and just over 3% on healthcare and education.

This is very significant in the developing world. The expenditure on debt repayment prevents developing nations from providing basic standards of living for their people. This means fewer people have access to hospitals, keeping disease rampant and difficult to cure, and children have less access to schools, which denies them their ability to learn and grow. In fact, some extrapolations based on UNICEF data suggest that several million children in sub-Saharan Africa who perished due to extreme poverty could have been saved by the huge sums of money spent instead on paying off debt since the 1980s.

Thus, canceling debt allows the developing world to spend on protecting its citizens.

Furthermore, canceling debt aids the growth of the developing world. The poor living conditions of citizens prevents them from contributing effectively to the workforce. Citizens who are not afflicted by rampant disease can contribute more effectively; greater access to education would add to the skills of people in the workforce. Many Chinese corporations, in their operations in the African continent, have placed a premium on ensuring that their local employees are kept in decent working and living conditions.

Thus canceling debt allows developing nations to increase the living standards of their people, as well as to develop their economies better.

Canceling debt undermines the growth of the developing world

Thesis: debt cancellation undermines investor confidence in the developing world

Realistically, the developing world still requires a great deal of investment and borrowing in order to grow. This is because the developing world requires the raw capital to kickstart expansion into new sectors; it also benefits greatly from infrastructural investment. For example, China’s investment in the African continent is expected to increase to $50 billion by 2015; it commonly undertakes developmental projects, including the construction of roads, railroads, and ports, which facilitate internal movement and growth.

The problem is that debt cancellation creates the perception of a moral hazard. Even if debt cancellation is only once-off, at the point where the developing world succeeds in securing a complete debt cancellation deal, it creates the fear of such a deal being secured in the future.

This undermines investor confidence, because it suggests that the developing world might begin to undertake reckless borrowing schemes without regard for the consequence, as someday developing countries might simply secure another debt cancellation deal. This skews the risk/reward analysis of investors away from developing nations by adding significant uncertainty in the returns of investment.

Consequently, the growth of developing nations is undermined by the loss of investor confidence when all debts are cancelled.

Debt cancellation frees the developing world from the shackles of the developed world

Thesis: debt repayment forces the developing world to stay beholden to international financial institutions set up by the developed world

Often, developing nations are forced to take loans to pay off their debts. These additional loans usually come from international financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. This is problematic because these loans come with conditions that stifle development.

The first general condition is a restriction of public expenditure in order to keep the nation’s budget balanced. This is detrimental because it means decreased access to hospitals and schools, which not only leaves citizens unable to take care of the sick and educate the young, but also hampers development by keeping developing nations mired in disease and illiteracy.

The second type of condition is the opening up of markets, supposedly to allow developed nations to compete with local industries. The problem is that the developed world continues to provide subsidies and support to its own industries; this means that they can flood the developing world’s markets with cheaper goods that undercut local producers, driving them out of business and creating rampant unemployment.

The third type of condition is the privatization of public services. Problematically, the desire of private corporations to maximize profits has led to an increase in the price of public services across the developing world; in some countries, water supply has been cut off by private corporations to those who cannot pay, which is unconscionable, since access to water water is a basic human right. Additionally, legal recourse is lacking when a relatively small number of private companies hold strangleholds over public services.

Furthermore, even if these loans didn’t come with harmful conditions, they only succeed in trapping the developing world in a vicious cycle of debt repayment, as additional borrowing only increases debt which will still have to be paid off later.

Thus canceling debt allows the developing world to escape from entrapment in poverty.

Canceling debt denies the developing world the dignity of repaying debt

Thesis: debt repayment is a symbol of a nation’s departure from its difficult past

Debt is seen as a remnant of a previous era. This is because debt is often the consequence of historical injustices, such as reckless borrowing by dictatorial regimes, or the result of the legacy of colonialism. Thus debt is a symbol of an era which represents oppression and suffering.

The act of repaying debt dignifies an entire nation. This is because it is a clear sign that the nation has moved on from the era which incurred the debt in the first place. This is among the reasons why South Africans were very much in favor of repaying debt, for the symbolism of having moved on from the Apartheid era.

Furthermore, canceling debt demeans the dignity of the developing world. The dignity of a nation is fundamentally rooted in its ability to survive and progress on its own; a nation forever reliant on the assistance of others is nothing more than a puppet nation, an extension of another. The act of canceling debt represents the inability of the developing world to move on from its own problems without the help of the developed world.

Conversely, allowing the developing nations to pay off their own debts demonstrates their capacity to help themselves.

Thus canceling debt denies developing nations the chance to dignify themselves by paying off the debts of the past.

Possible readings:


Globalization and its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz

Making Globalization Work by Joseph Stiglitz

The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier

The End of Poverty by Jeffery Sachs

No Logo by Naomi Klein

Open World: The Truth about Globalization by Philippe Legrain

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