Child Labour

The Agricultutal Sector

In many developing countries, a large number of children work in agriculture. According to a report by the ILO (International Labour Organization), close to one-third of agricultural workers in certain countries are children. They work on family-run farms that practice sustained agriculture and on commercial farms owned by large, powerful companies.

A European cosmetic company in Egypt employs children between the ages of 6 and 13 to pick jasmine 10 hours a day without any breaks or food.

The Industrial Sector

Children work in the carbon, tin, copper, gold, and diamond industries, as well as in the sand, gravel, slate, and salt refineries. At present, tens of thousands of children work as full-time miners in Africa, Asia, and Latin America .

These children work semi-clad, without proper protective equipment, for 8 to 10 hours a day, filling up bags that weigh more than they do. They work in mines, hundreds of metres underground, with shovels and pickaxes with candles as their only source of light. Hundreds of children die each year due to poor working conditions, falling rocks or disease.

The Gold mines of Nadie Dios in Peru employ 500 minors between the ages of 11 and 17. In South Africa , hundreds of children are employed in the diamond mines. Only in Meybuelayce , India , however, do we see a downward trend: 28,000 fewer children work in the mines compared to 15 years ago.

According to a 1993 report by the ILO (International Labour Office), 45% of the workforce in Columbia are children between the ages of 10 and 15, 20% of which are between 5 and 9 years old.

The mining industry has also introduced subcontracting in an effort to increase further employment of children for cutting precious stones. The workshops in Jaipur and Surat employ 65,000 children to cut and polish 65% of the world’s diamond production. The children often eat and sleep in the workshops, where they are required to put in 100-hour weeks.

The Carpet Industry

The carpet industry is the sector currently looking to employ children. To justify their recruiting practices, employers maintain that only the tiny fingers of children can properly handle the woollen strands, pass them through the looms, cut them, and knot them quickly.

In India, Pakistan, and Nepal, children work close to 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the carpet factories. They often sleep, eat, and work in small, gloomy rooms.

They work in uncomfortable positions, resulting in distorted spinal columns, and in dust-ridden environments, resulting in respiratory and ocular problems.

Domestic Child labour

Domestic child labour is one of the most prevalent forms of child exploitation, and, in most cases, it is plain slavery.

Although this type of servitude is extremely common, it is the least studied. Furthermore, it is not confined to Third World countries-in fact, domestic labourers are found in Europe, in North America, and in the richer countries of the Persian Gulf. The children are recruited from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. Given the alarming situation regarding domestic child labourers, the United Nations Human Rights Commission has proposed setting up a committee of experts to exclusively look into this form of exploitation.

Because the domestic child-labour industry is a clandestine one, it is impossible to know the exact number of child domestics in the world. Studies from the 1990s show that, in Indonesia alone, over 5-million children were employed as domestic labourers. In Brazil, 22% of working children are domestics. In Venezuela , 60% of girls working as domestics are between the ages of 10 and 14. In Sri Lanka , one out of three households employs children under 14 as domestics. In Africa, thousands of young girls are employed as domestics, and some, as young as 5 or 6, are sold as maidservants to employers who are entitled to treat them whatever way they choose to.

Many children are also employed as domestics in slum and remote countryside areas. It appears that thousands of children are sold by their poverty-stricken parents to specialized agents working jointly with illegal placement bureaus. Parents believe that their children will have a better life working for an affluent family even though they receive no money for the work.

Street Occupations

The streets provide plenty of work for young children. While the proportion of street children varies widely across different countries, provinces, and cities, the types of jobs available are the same. Street children work as bearers, delivery boys or girls, caretakers, car washers, shoe polishers, or newspaper vendors.

According to information obtained by UNICEF and the BIT (Bureau International du Travail), street children work 6 to 14 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Mechanics Industry

Despite the high demand and the potential dangers in the mechanics industry, children can

 be found working in many of the different branches.

In every major city of developing countries, children work as juvenile mechanics, locksmiths, metallurgists, and stone-breakers. These children work as apprentices for many years and are given the most thankless and hazardous tasks to perform. They work in unsafe environments using rudimentary techniques.

Millions of children around the world begin working at a very young age in construction of buildings, dams, roads, etc. UNICEF and the International labour Organization consider these types of jobs to be the most difficult, exhausting, and dangerous. The children are expected to dig deep into the earth, carry sand and cement, and twist and cut steel rods needed for concrete structures.

It is estimated that in India alone, about three million child labourers work in brickyards and on construction sites. And many more million work in the mechanics industries of Asia, East Africa, and Latin America.

Glass-Making Sector

In the Indian glass-making industry, 25% of the workforce is made up of children under 14. According to a BIT study (Bureau International du Travail), these children work in poorly-lit, badly ventilated workshops where temperatures often rise to 40-45° C. According to the BIT, child casualties are disposed of by being thrown into the furnace.

The Chemical Industry

This industry, widespread in India , has the most dangerous physical and psychological effects on the numerous working children. The chemical industry includes the manufacture of pesticides, dyes, incense products, explosives, ammunitions, fire crackers, and match sticks.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the youngest worker manufacturing match sticks is only 3 years old, while the others are, at most, 10 or 11. And after only a few years working in this industry, they all suffer lung damage, bone deformities, and muscle degeneration.

The arms manufacturing sector is the most harmful because of the high risk of explosion that results in severe burns or even death. In this sector, children as young as five years old work 9 to 10-hour days. And these child labour conditions also exist in India’s cigarette industry, where cigarettes are known as beedis. In almost all of these industries (match sticks, carpets, etc.) the children usually do not get paid, because they are bound by debt to their employers.

The Fishing Industry

The fishing and related industries employ large numbers of children who work in abhorrent conditions.

A widespread practice in Asia’s deep-sea fishing industry involves children diving to depths of up to 100ft. without any protection gear-they simply hold their breath. The purpose is to drive schools of fish towards the fishing nets. The children divers are usually between 12 and 17 years old, but some are barely even 10. Every year, dozens of these child divers are injured, killed or attacked by predator fish species. Many drown or suffer from ruptured tympanic membranes.

Child Soldiers

In the past ten years, we have seen numerous children bearing arms in many countries including Africa, Asia, and Latin America. While most are between 10 and 16 years old, many are even younger. They all, however, carry adult weapons, fight, and come face to face with death.

Although International humanitarian law prohibits governments and armed groups from using children in armed conflict, many are nonetheless recruited by force or threatened into enrolling.

Forced recruiting happens more often than voluntary joining, and the methods employed are the same everywhere: collective raids or individual kidnappings. Recruiters find their victims in the country, by attacking villages, or in the city, by targeting schools, orphanages, the streets, and even homes.

In Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Angola, and Mozambique, to name but a few, the rebel forces’ tactics in desensitizing children to violence are incredibly cruel. They force children to commit horrible atrocities, preferably against their loved ones, so that the children have no choice but to become a member of the guerrilla group.

A demobilized Mozambique child told the story of how he was forced to burn down the cellar where his parents were locked up, and then had to participate in dismembering their burnt remains.

Everywhere around the world, guerrilla lords drug child soldiers with cocaine, marijuana, mushrooms, etc., in order to create the best combatants. Oftentimes, gunpowder is put in their food to keep them awake and alert.

Children represent half the fighting forces in certain conflict-ridden areas. In Myanmar, estimates suggest that out of 5000 Karen army soldiers, close to 1000 are less than 15 years old. In Cambodia, one out of five soldiers was recruited while still under 14.

According to Unicef and other NGOs, close to 3000 children fought in Sierra Leone in 1993. In 1995, rebel groups forcibly enlisted children who were younger than 10.

A survey conducted in Angola in 1995 revealed that 36% of the country’s children had accompanied soldiers in combat, and that 17% among them had fired on someone at least once.

Child Prostitution and Sexual Exploitation

A little over a decade ago, pedophiles had to go to Asia to pay for sexual acts with children. Today, organized crime has taken over part of this market and has brought the service closer to the demand. Every European large city in the world offers what people used to go and get in Bangkok or Manilla.

Today, child trafficking is extremely well organized, with several international networks in place. Although the extent of the problem varies from one country to another, the phenomenon exists everywhere and is actually getting worse.

Recruiting children for the purposes of prostitution is done in the same way as for child labourers: they are bought and sold. Many children, however, are simply kidnapped.

Poverty is once again at the origin of sexual exploitation. In developing countries around the world, pimps scour the countryside and the slums in search of children. The pimps pay poverty-stricken parents and persuade them to send their children to the city or another country to work in a real “job”. The little girls find themselves locked up in brothels or end up in national and international prostitution networks. The children must first reimburse the money given to their parents plus the interest-an astronomical amount that becomes an eternal debt. They are forced to remain sexual slaves because of this debt, which is impossible to reimburse because it increases daily.

Child prostitution and pornography are growing industries throughout the world, including areas that until recently have been spared. Poverty, however, does not explain everything. The financial lure, cruelty, ignorance, discrimination, and other factors help support and encourage the sexual exploitation of children.

Child prostitutes work between 10 to 14-hour days and must see a minimum of 10 clients. Often, the act is performed in walled enclosures with barbed wire for ceilings to ensure the children cannot escape. Girls and boys live under squalid conditions, and the stubborn are beaten and whipped with clubs or rubber tubing until they bleed. Certain establishments are specialized in young virgin girls and have what are called deflowering rooms.

The young prostitutes must pay the pimps for their food, for their rented mats (used as beds), and for their continual “bad behaviour” fines. In the end, they have nothing left.

The majority of these children suffer from serious physical and psychological problems, and their life expectancy is about 15 years. Most of the little girls become infertile, 85% of the children suffer from sexually transmitted diseases, and 1 out of 4 children is HIV positive or living with AIDS.

The Child Slaves

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 276 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work worldwide, 

•  In Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, children who work in tea plantations earn so little that they often need to work over 14-hour days.and 80 million of them under conditions of slavery. Although the majority of child labourers live in Third World countries, Asia, Africa and South America, many can also be found in Europe and North America.

•  In Latin America, white families routinely “adopt” little Indian girls who, as soon as they turn 5 or 6 years old, are overburdened with work and treated as slaves.

•  72% of child servants start the workday by 7 am and do not go to bed before 11 pm. Their tasks include transporting water and firewood, doing laundry and housecleaning, preparing meals, and taking care of the families’ children and elderly.

•  According to the ILO, close to 420 000 children in India work in the carpet industry. Child weavers are mainly between 6 and 10 years old, but some are as young as 4 or 5. They all work 10 to 12 hour-days under horrible conditions, and if they fall asleep on the job, they are awakened by blows. The children are chained to their work to prevent them from escaping, deprived of food, and are fined for all mistakes. The fines are often so high that the children do not get paid for the work, further binding them to their “owners.”

•  The ILO estimates that a quarter of the world’s agricultural workers are children. In Zimbabwe, children pick cotton and coffee beans 60 hours a week for only $1,00. In Brazil , close to 3 million children aged 10 to 14 years work full time in sisal, tea, tobacco, cotton and sugar cane plantations.

In the Dominican Republic, 8 to 15 year old children recruited in Haiti are sent to the sugar cane plantations where guards prevent them from fleeing. They work 12-hour days, 7 days a week, doing backbreaking work, without gloves or boots. They only get 1 meal of rice a day, and they sleep in huts without water, electricity and latrines.

Why do these children work?

Child labour is not the result of culture or work ethics, but rather of companies and subcontractors searching for a cheap and obedient labour force.

Anything that results in or perpetuates poverty also encourages child labour. For many years, governments from industrialized countries have been re-engineering their economic systems in order to meet the moneylender’s demands.

The World Bank’s International Monetary Fund subjects deep-in-debt countries to a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which forces governments to increase exports, privatize schools and health care, and deregulate the industry.

By attracting foreign manufacturers to come and set-up local businesses, these countries must restructure their whole export economy. They promise these manufacturers cheap, non-unionized labour, as well as lax work legislation. The World Bank’s requirements have particularly devastating repercussions on the children of poor families.

Numerous industry sectors hire subcontractors for a large part of their production needs. Consequently, large companies save significantly on labour and other general expenses. The local companies must deal with fierce competition when it comes to securing contracts, so they look for the cheapest possible labour force: children. Some of the very large and profitable companies in the world refuse to take responsibility for the subcontractors’ business practices.

Poverty, performance leveling, technology, an expanding informal economy, and the International Monetary Fund’s re-engineering requirements are the “new world economy” factors that have contributed to the increase in child labour.

Finding Solutions

Eliminate Poverty

International financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund contributed to the rise in child labour when they called on countries heavily indebted to them to reduce public expenditure on health care and new jobs. These structural adjustment programmes have resulted in increased poverty and child labour. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should rethink their loan plans to developing countries in an effort to increase social expenditure rather than reduce it.

Government organizations and industries should be pressured to act in a socially responsible manner and to put an end to child labour or to provide children with better working conditions. Boycotting is not the solution because it forces children, who otherwise have no specific training, to quit their jobs and return to the streets or to more dangerous activities.

Encourage Education

Children need to learn how to read and write. They need social and professional skills that only school and a nurturing environment can provide.

Some countries have compulsory schooling and some provide free public schooling. However, in many countries, particularly for those where structural adjustment lending has led to the privatization of schools-the cost of teaching, books, and uniforms makes it impossible for children to get an education. Furthermore, for education to become a solution to child labour, schools must be located close to where these children live.

Education must be free and compulsory up until the minimum legal age for employment.

Enforce Labour Laws

Most countries have laws against child labour; however, some governments support child labour (regardless of existing laws) as a way of gaining a competitive market advantage.

Rehabilitate and Protect Working Children

(Encourage NGO participation)

Preventing children from working is not necessarily the best solution; children may end up in worse situations and their families may become even poorer.

Some NGOs fight to protect working children by providing them with information on their rights or by guaranteeing them safer working conditions. Other NGOs help children in the transition from work to school by building centres where they are provided with healthcare and a tailored education. The children leave these centres only when they have learnt to be independent.

Abolish Child Trafficking

Everywhere in the world, there are adults who earn a living by buying and selling children. The governments of all countries must take harsh measures against child trafficking.

Promote Fair Trade

There is a worldwide rise in commercial agreements-which must include norms for guaranteeing basic human rights and respect. Implementing these fair trade norms helps prevent child labour.

The new labelling campaigns-like Rugmark or the equitable commerce label-guarantee that the products consumers buy are not manufactured by children and that fair commercial practices have been employed. The label also reminds companies that young consumers should also be aware of commercial practices.

Fair trade practices guarantee a fair price to small-scale producers. In 44 developing countries, fair trade helps keep 550 co-operatives in business. These co-operatives consequently provide goods to 5 million people and often reinvest profits in the community, where the money is used to build schools, medical clinics, wells, etc.

Replace Child Workers by Adult Workers

There are 800 million unemployed adults in the world; and yet, the number of working children is estimated to be at over 300 million.

Replacing these working children with their mostly unemployed parents would result in higher family incomes (since adults are generally paid better), and the resulting rise in production costs would have little impact on exports sales.