Whose backs are we standing on?
Did we really leave child labor behind in the last century?
To many, child labor probably sounds like a thing of the past; a horrible consequence of rampant capitalism that countries like the United States managed to eradicate a century ago. If child labor does exist, then it only exists in a select few countries with developing economies, and we as global citizens can have no impact on conditions of the world’s most exploited children.
The fact is child labor, and the factors driving child labor, are more universal than we think. Asia, and the Pacific have most child laborers with 78 million, representing 9.3% of the overall population of children. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest percentage of child laborers, with 21% of the children population working. In Latin America and the Caribbean 8.8% of children are child laborers, and the Middle East and North Africa come in at 8.4%. Child laborers frequently work in manufacturing (especially the mining, and brick-making), agriculture, and as domestic servants. In countries considered high risk zones for child labor, such as Burundi and Sudan, children are more likely to be victims of the darkest sides of child labor such as sex trafficking, and child militias.
Countries with a high poverty rate consequently have higher rates of child laborers because of the need for children to supplement their family's meager incomes. In most cases these kids are sacrificing any educational opportunities they have in order to work and help provide for the basic needs of their families. In turn, a lack of education condemns these kids to a life of perpetual poverty, reinforcing a cycle that will continue to afflict future generations. Along with missed educational opportunities, children engaged in high risk, and physically draining work will see their health deteriorate, and their life expectancy decrease. In addition, there are no insurance mechanisms available for children subjected to high risk work. If anything happens to the kids, the only ones that suffer are the kids and their families.
Surprisingly, the Unites States is classified as a medium risk country for child labor. This is largely due to the country’s agriculture industry which enjoys looser labor regulations than any other sector. The minimum age for non-hazardous employment in non-agriculture fields is 14 years old, but in agriculture a child as young as 10 can work on farms not covered by the minimum wage requirement as long as the parents consent. The minimum age for hazardous employment is in non-agriculture fields is 18, but 16 when working in agriculture. These loopholes in labor regulations have allowed children as young as 12 to work in tobacco fields.
As global citizens we have the duty to raise awareness about the prevalence of child labor all around the world. In addition, advocacy efforts to bring an end to extreme poverty, and food insecurity should be at the forefront of efforts to eradicate child labor. Global citizens must also lobby their local representatives to reform labor laws pertaining to agriculture.