Child performers (actors, singers, figure-skaters, gymnasts etc.) often form an exception on the ban on child labour existing in most countries. Provided with on-set or on-pitch tutors they can train or perform for many hours each week on top of their schoolwork. For some this results in Olympic medals or multi-million dollar movies before they reach adulthood. Others are less lucky, gaining little success for their hard work and suffering physical or emotional damage that hampers their later life. There are many high profile cases of child actors, like Drew Barrymore who go off the rails with drink and drugs and equally high profile are the dancers, gymnasts and skaters who struggle with eating disorders. However successful young football players like Wayne Rooney often attribute their prowess to training from an early age. Some say removing payment or limiting hours would provide a means to limit the pressure on child performers while others argue that only an outright ban can truly protect their rights.
If children are working they are not spending their time in formal education. Regardless of what kind of work they are doing this deprives them of something so important that we make it compulsory for all children. Although the minimum legal requirements can often be provided by tutors on the set or sports academies it can be hard to keep performance and education in proper balance when one appears to bring so many immediate rewards both in terms of fame and money. Children are less able to make decisions for themselves and to represent their interests. This leaves them at risk of exploitation in the workplace. While parents can represent their children's interests to their employers but there is always a danger that parent's interests do not align with their children's. Discrepancies in interests can arise when the child's earning power far outstrips that of the parent or the activity fulfils the ambitions of the parent more than the child's.
In the end, education is designed to prepare children for their adult lives and careers. Working in a profession like acting, or training as a football player may be a better preparation for some children's future than school-based learning. Provided they fulfil legal minimum levels of education why shouldn't they start their career early? After all, almost every country allows parents to opt to home-school their children even if they have no teaching qualification. Almost all child performers have well-qualified tutors and some child stars go on to achieve high grades in university (e.g. Jodie Foster). Simply banning child performers will not prevent the possibility of exploitation, merely place it out of reach of scrutiny. At the moment, child performers are official employees and as such their pay, hours and conditions are all monitored by government departments (i.e. the Inland Revenue, Education Ministry, Health and Safety, etc.) and as such must conform to specified standards. When children become amateurs, part-timers or are completely banned there is an incentive to push these limits and hide the extent of children's involvement. This is only likely to reduce the conditions for children involved.
Stage fright and the pressure of performance can be difficult to handle for even the most experienced adults. It is therefore irresponsible to place these pressures on children at anything but the lowest amateur level. Once children come to realise that financial and competitive success depend on each performance the expectation can become too much. While the child may enjoy it to begin with as the pressure mounts they may feel it's too late to back out.Allowing children to perform pushes them to grow up too soon. They are exposed to levels of responsibility, sexuality and temptation (e.g. drink, drugs) without the maturity to cope, and it is no wonder that so many child stars go off the rails. At the same time, child performers lose out on a normal social life and may find it very hard to adapt once their brief career is over. Many young sporting, stage and musical starts have "burnt out" by the time they reach twenty and are left with little education or money (which has often gone to agents, parents or been wasted), and few prospects
Modern attitudes to children are a recent cultural development; for centuries children had to go out to work and were treated as adults from a much younger age than today. We should not impose this cultural bias upon those with exceptional talents and supportive families, providing the law prevents them being exploited. Ultimately we must trust loving parents to know best for their own children. A few scare stories should not be taken as representative of the happy and successful performing careers of many talented young people.
The consequences of such a ban need not be severe. Young adult actors often portray children on stage and in films or television. Nor are there many essential roles for children in the classic dramatic repertoire - the intense focus on children in the media is a modern phenomenon. Sports don't need to suffer much either, just to change and adapt; gymnastics and tennis have already raised the minimum age at which children can compete professionally, with no negative impact upon the success and popularity of these sports.