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The next time you shop, I hope you realize that garden rock, handmade rug, or silk scarf available at your favorite store was probably made by child labor. I hope you will think about twelve-year-old Ramesh, who works in a silk factory in northern India.
Every day he has to put his hands in boiling water to remove the thread from the silkworm, and although silk is expensive in the international market, Ramesh himself earns about $1 a day. That’s not all, at the end of the day his hands are red and blistered due to the inhuman nature of his job. But Ramesh is not alone. There are millions of children like him – 158 million according to UNICEF. They are everywhere but invisible, toiling as domestic servants in homes, working behind workshop walls, hidden from view on plantations. Children work in mines, in agriculture with chemicals and pesticides and with dangerous machinery. Industries that employ children are often informal without legal or regulatory protection. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 22,000 children die each year in occupational accidents.
Child labor is widespread around the world and no country is immune: There are 2.5 million working children in advanced economies and another 2.5 million in transition economies. In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately one in three children is involved in child labour, amounting to 69 million children, while in South Asia there are another 44 million working children. In addition, an estimated 8.4 million children are trapped in slavery, trafficking, debt slavery, prostitution, pornography and other illegal activities (source: UNICEF).
Child labor is one of the biggest consequences of poverty and illiteracy worldwide. For poor children, schooling competes with a host of other demands on their time and energy, such as contributing to the family income, caring for younger siblings, and household chores. And then there are times when children have no other choice. Families trade their child with an employer for money (sometimes as little as $15), and the children remain slaves for the rest of their lives.
Most countries today have laws that prohibit child labor and slavery. However, such laws have many loopholes and are often poorly enforced. For example, in India, the law prohibits children under 14 from working in factories, slaughterhouses or other dangerous places, but there are some exceptions for farm work – if the working hours are limited, the children are in school and there are no machines to operate. . But children often spend ten hours in the fields and miss school. The Government of India itself estimates in its latest account (from the 2001 census) that 12.6 million children under the age of 14 are working in India. Nonprofits that work with these children, however, put the number much higher – 50 million. The situation is much worse in war-torn Africa and other parts of Asia, such as Bangladesh and Myanmar, where the majority of the population lives below the poverty line.
Eradicating child labor requires a change in attitudes. Every child has the right to an education and a safe childhood. Every child has the right to dream and we can make it come true. What we need to do is remind governments of the promises made and support every effort made to fulfill those promises. We should choose not to employ children or buy products made by children. We just have to be willing to help those who will never get the same opportunities as us – all we have to do is care. It is an important commitment that we must all make to break this intergenerational cycle of poverty. Change should start within each of us. And it should only end when all children can be children.
There are many creative and simple ways you can get involved in the fight against child labor and other issues that plague our world. We can all make this world a better place for everyone.
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