child labour is the employment of children under an age determined by law or custom. This practice is considered exploitative by many countries and international organizations. Child labor was not seen as a problem throughout most of history, only becoming a disputed issue with the beginning of universal schooling and the concepts of workers' and children's rights.
Child labor can be factory work, mining or quarrying, agriculture, helping in the parents' business, having one's own small business (for example selling food), or doing odd jobs. Some children work as guides for tourists, sometimes combined with bringing in business for shops and restaurants (where they may also work as waiters). Other children are forced to do tedious and repetitive jobs such as assembling boxes or polishing shoes. However, rather than in factories and sweatshops, most child labor occurs in the informal sector, "selling on the street, at work in agriculture or hidden away in houses - far from the reach of official labor inspectors and from media scrutiny."
The most controversial forms of work include the military use of children as well as child prostitution. Less controversial, and often legal with some restrictions, are work as child actors and child singers, as well as agricultural work outside of the school year (seasonal work).
Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse
An estimated 218 million children aged 5-17 are engaged in child labour, excluding child domestic labour. Some 126 million of these children are believed to be engaged in hazardous situations or conditions, such as working in mines, working with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture or working with dangerous machinery. They are everywhere but invisible, toiling as domestic servants in homes, labouring behind the walls of workshops, hidden from view in plantations.
Millions of girls who work as domestic servants are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked, forced into debt bondage or other forms of slavery (5.7 million), into prostitution and pornography (1.8 million), into participating in armed conflict (0.3 million) or other illicit activities (0.6 million). However, the vast majority of child labourers – 70 per cent or more – work in agriculture.
Regional estimates indicate that:
- The Asian and Pacific regions harbour the largest number of child workers in the 5-14 age group, 127.3 million in total. (19 per cent of children work in the region.)
- Sub-Saharan Africa has an estimated 48 million child workers. Almost one child in three (29 per cent) below the age of 15 works.
- Latin America and the Caribbean have approximately 17.4 million child workers. (16 per cent of children work in the region).
- Fifteen per cent of children work in the Middle East and North Africa.
- Approximately 2.5 million children are working in industrialized and transition economies.
Many children in hazardous and dangerous jobs are in danger of injury, even death.
Beyond compassion, consider who today’s children will become in the future. Between today and the year 2020, the vast majority of new workers, citizens and new consumers — whose skills and needs will build the world’s economy and society — will come from developing countries. Over that 20-year period, some 730 million people will join the world’s workforce — more than all the people employed in today's most developed nations in 2000. More than 90 percent of these new workers will be from developing nations, according to research by Population Action International. How many will have had to work at an early age, destroying their health or hampering their education?
HOW WAS CHILD LABOR REDUCED IN TODAY’S DEVELOPED COUNTRIES?Four main changes took place:
- economic development that raised family incomes and living standards
- widespread, affordable, required and relevant education
- enforcement of anti-child labor laws (along with compulsory education laws)
- changes in public attitudes toward children that elevated the importance of education
WHAT CAUSES CHILD LABOR TODAY?Poverty is widely considered the top reason why children work at inappropriate jobs for their ages. But there are other reasons as well -- not necessarily in this order:
- family expectations and traditions
- abuse of the child
- lack of good schools and day care
- lack of other services, such as health care
- public opinion that downplays the risk of early work for children
- uncaring attitudes of employers
- limited choices for women
The report also says that international economic trends also have increased child labor in poor countries. "During the 1980s, in many developing countries, government indebtedness, unwise internal economic policies and recession resulted in economic crisis. Structural adjustment programmes in many countries accentuated cuts in social spending that have hit the poor disproportionately. " Although structural adjustment programs are being revised to spare education from deep cuts, the report says, some countries make such cuts anyway because of their own, local priorities. In many countries public education has deteriorated so much, the report declared, that education itself has become part of the problem — because children work to avoid going to school. This conclusion is supported by the work of many social scientists, according to Jo Boyden, Birgitta Ling, and William Myers, who conducted a literature search for their 1998 book, What Works for Working Children (Stockholm: Radda Barnen, Unicef, 1998).
Children do some types of low-status work, the report adds, because children come from minority groups or populations that have long suffered discrimination. " In northern Europe, for example, child labourers are likely to be African or Turkish; in Argentina, many are Bolivian or Paraguayan; in Thailand, many are from Myanmar. An increasingly consumer-oriented culture, spurring the desire and expectation for consumer goods, can also lead children into work and away from school."
WHAT ARE SOME SOLUTIONS TO CHILD LABOR?Not necessarily in this order:
- Increased family incomes
- Education — that helps children learn skills that will help them earn a living
- Social services — that help children and families survive crises, such as disease, or loss of home and shelter
- Family control of fertility — so that families are not burdened by children
The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for children to participate in important decisions that will affect their lives.
Some educators and social scientists believe that one of the most important ways to help child workers is to ask their opinions, and involve them in constructing "solutions" to their own problems. Strong advocates of this approach are Boyden, Myers and Ling; Concerned for Working Children in Karnataka, India; many children’s "unions" and "movements," and the Save the Children family of non-governmental organizations.