Today, June 12 is “World Day Against Child Labour”. This day, created in 2002 by the International Labour Organization aims to bring worldwide awareness to the horrors and injustice of child labour. Since 2002, global child labour has declined by one third, from 236 million to 168 million. Though we are on the right path and the number is decreasing, our final goal is to permanently eradicate child labour.
Many people may think that child labour only takes place in poorer countries but on the contrary, child labour is very much a global problem. From children mining for diamonds in Cote d’Ivoire, to working in tobacco fields in the United States, no country is exempt from the inhumanity of child labour.
As the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow, underprivileged families are forced to send their children, no matter how young, off to work. The labour is intense and many times harmful to a child’s health and well-being, most working in agricultural fields, factories and deep in the mines.
“World Day Against Child Labour” serves to put an end to this horrific reality.
What is child labour?
By definition, child labour is the employment of children in an industry of business, especially when illegal or considered exploitative.
- threatens a child’s physical, mental or emotional well-being
- is any work that prevents a child from attending school
- violates a country’s minimum age law
- violates a country’s minimum wage law
- involves abuse
Where does child labour take place?
Child labour happens everywhere. A large number of children are working in Asian and Pacific countries, almost 9% (78 million children) of the total child population. African countries of the southern hemisphere also have a high number of child labourers with 21% (59 million children) of the child population working.
60% of child labourers work in agricultural fields and within commercial agriculture. In the fields, children are faced with long, tiring hours and constant exposure to chemicals and harmful pesticides. They suffer from extreme heat and sun exposure with very little water and rest. In the United States alone, more than 70 children die each year working on produce and tobacco fields.
In the Middle East and Asia, child manufacturers are not uncommon. About 14 million children work in factories producing carpets, clothing, soccer balls, surgical instruments, glass and bricks. Factories are loud and workers are cramped together, working long hours with very little breaks. Injury risk is extraordinarily high as small children operate large and complex machines. A child may be paid only a few cents a day, while one jersey he or she made could sell for over £50.
Children as young as six years old are sent off to work in the mines of many countries including Colombia, Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe and Mongolia. They begin their day very early in the morning and only step out of the mine 12-15 hours later. They are exposed to coal dust and toxic gasses which could later lead to illnesses, they are forced to carry and break up heavy rocks and use machinery their small bodies are too weak to operate. Nine year old miners have the duty of setting off explosives and carrying loads. Every day they are faced with the danger of falling rocks, explosions and tunnel collapses. By the end of their workday, they have made less than £1.20.
Sometimes starting at five years old, many children, especially girls, leave their homes to work in another household. Cleaning, washing, child care and gardening are all chores in domestic work. Though this labour may seem less threatening than the others, domestic work can easily lead to child trafficking. These boys and girls can be victims of physical, emotional and even sexual abuse.
Stopping child labour
Being aware of child labour is the start to an end. You can make simple but smarter choices in your day, like buying fair trade goods rather than generic brands. Fair trade products are made under labour standards that pay farmers and workers’ wages that meet their families’ basic living needs. Unions and grassroots groups fight ruthlessly to end this war against child labour by forming foreign alliances to closely monitor and report child labour when it happens.
When popular brands are caught by these monitors, news travels fast and the company is bombarded with letters from students, workers and customers! Sending letters and E-mails to governments, policy makers and manufacturing companies urging them to stop child labour is one way of helping the cause.
Today is the world movement against child labour. Read more articles, research for more information and write to your local newspapers, blogs and magazines urging them to start the global campaign to finally put an end to child labour.
We would like to thank photographer Michael Biach for his beautiful images capturing child labour in Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma).