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Child Labor Today Around the World

Empty Harbor Afternoon Light

Have you ever thought about the people who have been a part of the manufacturing of the products you use? Especially the child labor.

If it was not for Lewis Hines, I do not think we would have a clear picture of the conditions the children worked in the factories in US a hundred years ago.

He used to go into the mills with the permission to take the pictures of the machines, eventually he left us the invaluable and concrete pieces of times when little children were besides those machines. That was America one hundred years ago. Today it seems the geography has shifted, as children in other places of the world have replaced them. It is estimated that there are 215 million children are at work today and 14 million of them are involved in direct manufacturing.

There are many reasons why factories are using child labor, main reason being poverty; families who are in need of support are sending their kids to work in countries where the labor rules are not established, and it is quite common to use little ones. Besides providing cheap labor, they are preferred by many factories since children are easier to direct and the risk for strike is eliminated.

According to a study by United Nations in 2009 only 2% of the global military spending is sufficient to achieve the universal education for the entire world’s children.

Developing countries who are burdened under the development debt repay more than their GDP, worsening the conditions and forcing children to work because of the cuts of education funding.

Only in Sub-Saharan Africa, 48 million children under 14 years of age are at work. Besides not being able to get an education, child laborers are under greater health risk when compared to the adults doing the same job. Especially children working in the agricultural areas are under more risk than children working in other industries. 80% of child laborers work in agriculture. Reasons are the exposure to pesticides, working with machinery and sharp tools, lack of clean water, beginning to work at very early ages, often between 5-7 years of age and less restrictive standards set for agricultural work.

International Labor Organization sets the standards and the rights of workers under its member countries, effective abolition of Child Labor is one of them, and unfortunately many countries cannot apply because of the pressure from the employers or local governments not to enforce laws.

One of the obstacles to prevent the child labor is free trade rules, countries that rely on child labor may put trade barriers against the countries who refuses to buy their goods. As a result of high competition and low prices on coffee for example, producers look for the cheapest options in work force, and child laborers become more efficient for them.

Child labor is not impossible to prevent; Gap sets a perfect example how it can be done. In 2007 after the disclosed fact that some of the GapKids clothes had been embroidered by children in India, Gap immediately stopped the orders and paid back to the children. In the end it is up to the companies who are placing the orders to make sure all standards are met by their vendors; even at times when it is hard to control who is hired down at the supply chain, it is their responsibility.

If we all act the same way according to the same principles, one by one vendors will be forced not to exploit children.

January 9, 2012 By Belma Mavruk


  • Stacey Howard

    I started working at 10, babysitting, cleaning houses, and going with my uncle on his paper route. At 14 I was old enough to work and got a “real” job. My brothers did the same, working on the docks cleaning fish, or on fishing boats till they were old enough to get legal jobs. Today, we would not be able to do it, even older teens have a hard time finding work. But we needed the money (and, our working conditions were plush compared to the life a five year old in a sweat shop). Maybe our poverty was neglible compared to a child’s in India or the dozens of other countries using child labor, but they are contributing to the family just like we were. We do need laws to address child labor, and to hold companies accountable for the conditions under which their products are made, but even more, we need to remove the need. Until we address the standard of living for all people, we will fight against slavery, child labor and a host of other social ills.

    • I think you make an excellent point Stacey. Since the root of this problem stems from poverty and a poor standard of living, enforcing rules will not abolish child labor, new ways will be found in avoiding legal problems and fees. But like Belma states in her article, only 2% of the global military spending is sufficient to achieve the universal education for the entire world’s children. And that would certainly be a start in fighting poverty in developing countries.

    • Belma Mavruk

      Hi Stacey, your words are right to the point. If a country’s GDP is enough to make at least a decent living,little children can be at school and at play as they should.Responsibility starts with us as adults, with business owners, factories, governments, local administration to allocate funds and set rules to protect children and give them their rights of growing healthy.

  • trina finny

    i think child labor is rong but we have to see that children worlk because they need food and we as a comunity should help them.

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  • ishi nibsaiya

    yes! child labour is affecting our indian national income because the children are not getting educated.!
    therefore for being the no1 country it has to stop child labour..
    n everyone should get educated..!! 🙂
    n this material was very helpful in my business project!

  • This is wrong! children should be free and well educated for the future. wat kind of cold hearted idiots would even consider chilb labor!?

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  • persons/companies taking undue advantages of the innocent and vulnerable children must stop. Governments must continue to apply the stiffer laws effective measures to deal with kanker Educating the child is the best remedy to free the children. parents must stand up their responsibilities by educating, protecting and providing their basic needs food, shelter ,clothings ,healthcare etc.

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