child labor
After child labor was legalized in Bolivia this past month, discussion of its causes and impact is on the rise.

The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) website reported that between the years 2000 and 2014, the number of child laborers has decreased one- third, from 246 million to 168 million children.

Though these numbers show promising signs, there are still many hurdles to overcome in ending child labor. Child labor does not merely consist of working in factories and on the streets, but so much more.

1. Slavery

Slavery can come in various forms but all amount to the same thing: a child is owned by someone and has zero say in what they have to do, where they go and what conditions they are forced to live in.

The Anti-Slavery International’s website reported a Sudanese woman named Mende who was taken as a teenager after being separated from her family. Mende ended up in a house in Khartoum as a domestic slave for six to seven years.

“[Once] my master… called me her slave. From that time on I understood who I am. From the beginning she treated me badly and beat me; even then I couldn’t understand why. It was only when she said that she was my owner and called me Abda [servant] that I understood.”

Slavery with children often occurs because the child’s family is in debt and cannot pay that debt off, so to become free from the burden of debt, they sell their child. The child will work for years to pay off their family’s debt.

Other types of slavery include forced labor, which in the private economy generates over $150 billion illegally per year. In addition, War Child U.K. has reported that there are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers in the world because of forced labor.

2. Sexual Exploitation

Sexual exploitation is taking advantage of, abusing and mistreating someone sexually for profit and gain. Many children- girls and boys alike- are exploited every day, whether it be through pornographic material, sexual acts, child marriage or prostitution.

According to the Half The Sky Movement, “trafficking for sexual exploitation is one of the fastest–growing organized crimes, generating $28.7 billion each year.”

What does this mean for children? More and more children will be bought and sold, kidnapped and trafficked across even international boarders, abused countless times over and forced to perform sexual acts.

3. Illicit Activities

Illicit activities are crimes such as producing and/or trafficking drugs, shoplifting, stealing automobiles, theft and begging for money.

Children are forced or willing to get involved with drugs. For those who willingly get involved, it is for the belief that they will become wealthy and gain status. It is these children who are involved in the selling of narcotics that develop drug addictions.

Oftentimes, children are made to become beggars and earn money from passersby. If they do not earn enough throughout the day, they are typically beaten.

4. Work Harmful to Mind, Body and Spirit

Forced into child labor, children suffer mentally, emotionally and physically. ILO reported that child labor which involves domestic work, manufacturing, agriculture and construction are sectors of child labor that raise tremendous concern.

Around 60 percent of child laborers are in agriculture worldwide. Child labor streams mainly from poverty and many times in family farming. Though child labor is thought of only to be in foreign countries, it can be seen on farms in America.

Mining is becoming increasingly popular as a form of child labor. The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking reported that, “[Children are] forced to spend 10 or more hours a day in dark, cramped mines filled with poisonous chemicals… Children working in the gold mines face mercury poisoning; in coal mines, children inadvertently consume toxic coal dust…”

UN.GIFT also reported that over 32,000 children die per year as a result of working in unsafe conditions.

While many children are playing on playgrounds and catching fireflies on a warm summer night, there are those all around the world who are in bondage, in despair, in crisis, begging for help and a way out.

Juan Somavia, ILO Director- General, said, “A world without child labour is possible with the right priorities and policies…Driven by conscience, let’s muster the courage and conviction to act in solidarity and ensure every child’s right to his or her childhood. It brings rewards to all.”

– Kori Withers 

Sources: International Labor Organization 1, International Labor Organization 2, UN, Anti- Slavery International, Half The Sky Movement, War Child UK, United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking
Photo: The Guardian