Blog Challenge, Reflections

Labor’s Children

Welcome to Day 21 of #30PostsHathSept.[PLEASE READ all my other challenge posts HERE.]


Say child labor and too many people still instinctively think back to the Industrial Revolution. In the second decade of the 21st Century, the world is far from eliminating this form of exploitation and abuse. Child labor is a persistent and oppressive practice that places innocent children around the world in harm’s way. Child labor is a practice that vanquishes childhood and severely diminishes or eliminates their future opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines child labor as,

“Slavery or practices similar to slavery, the sale or tracking of children, debt bondage or serfdom; the forcible recruitment of children for use in armed conflict; the commercial sexual exploitation of children; the involvement of children in drug tracking; and work that is likely to harm children’s health, safety, or morals.”

The United Nations states their definition more succinctly as,

“It is work that children should not be doing because they are too young to work, or – if they are old enough to work – because it is dangerous or otherwise unsuitable for them.”

We’re not talking about chores, school-related work, or work that children wish to do themselves. This is exploitation and abuse for the benefit of others, not the child.

How many children are we talking about?

Over all, 168 million children around the globe are victims of child labor. Nearly 50% of these children are doing what is classified as hazardous work. To visualize a better the extent of child labor, approximately one out of every eight children around the world is a victim of child labor. Only one in five are even paid for their work.

Almost 3/4ths of the victims of child labor perform agricultural work. The products of their labors are known to each and every one of us and in part include coffee, cocoa, sugarcane, rice, and cotton.

But child labor is what happens just to children in other countries, correct? Wrong.

While the vast majority of child labor victims are outside the U.S., some children here as young as 12 are known to work legally harvesting tobacco, a practice that exposes them to not just a toxic level of nicotine (as if that weren’t bad enough), but also to pesticides used by the tobacco industry. Other examples of child labor in the U.S. are not so readily available, but unlikely to be zero.

Outside of agriculture, Children are also exploited. Some pharmaceutical companies even owe their profits to the toil of children laboring for some of the components of manufactured drugs. Hazardous work such as construction, mining, and quarry work is not uncommon. We all love the convenience of smartphones and laptops, yet the harvesting of technology’s precious minerals, and the recycling of used and disposed of electronics, are not infrequently done by children across the world. These are children who are too poor to even own the devices they are helping manufacture.

But even this depressing picture is incomplete. Children are repeatedly victims in both drug trafficking and in human trafficking. With increased worldwide turmoil, violence, and war, the so-called collateral damage includes these children caught in the middle.

Poverty is and always has been an overriding contributor to child labor violations. Children may be forced to work when one or both parents are unable. By doing so, many children miss out on schooling, further shrinking their future prospects. I saw this myself in my earlier volunteer work in Latin America. Some families in other countries offer their children – both sons and daughters – for monetary payment or as bondage for bills unpaid. Poverty can make people do things that in any other circumstance would be unthinkable.

In 2009, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said,

“Millions of children are victims of violence and exploitation. They are physically and emotionally vulnerable and they can be scarred for life by mental or emotional abuse. That is why children should always have the first claim on our attention and resources. They must be at the heart of our thinking on challenges we are addressing on a daily basis. We know what to do, and we know how to do it. The means are at hand, it is up to us to seize the opportunity and build a world that is fit for children.”

Today with global strains on the economy, poverty, world violence, war, and the ongoing massive refugee crisis larger than World War II, trying to prevent the exploitation of children is even more crucial. Even more time-sensitive. Even more desperate. Children are being forced to fight wars in armed conflict. They pay family debt via bondage. And in Syria, over 50% of the refugees are children, placing them as a potentially high-risk group for child labor. I wrote about the refugee crisis and this lost generation in an earlier post.

There is some good news. The International Labor Organizations along with the International Organization on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO/IPEC) have seen shrinkages in the levels of child labor around the world between 2008-2012.

But wait before getting too relaxed about this huge global issue. The number I gave at the start of this post – 168 million – is the recent 2012 number. In 2008 there were 47 million more children victimized by child labor. Improvements, absolutely…but a far far cry from a complete resolution.

The first step to stop thinking of these children as other people’s children. They are all our children.The human race. And if it’s difficult to wrap one’s head around 168 million, imagine this: That’s greater than the combined population of both the United Kingdom and Germany. Just under half the population of the United States. And even more concretely, the number of people that could fill the seats of 2,500 football stadiums. These children – our children – deserve their childhoods back.

Listen to this video by the Fair Labor Association president and labor activist, Auret van Heerden. Please be inspired and decide what you can do to help.

“There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.” – former Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan

[You can enjoy all the daily posts from the #30PostsHathSept bloggers HERE]