Child labor is a serious problem in many parts of the world, especially in developing countries. It has been linked to many nations and cultures for hundreds of years. Child labor is defined by Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: as any economic exploitation or work that is likely to be hazardous or interferes with the child’s education, or is harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral, or social development. Labor is defined as a difficult, or fatiguing mental and/or physical work.
It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that it became the problem it is today. With the arrival of the factory system in the 18th century, during the 1700s, children as young as five were being used as workers in England. During this period, a law called the English Poor Act gave the government the responsibility to care for children that had no parents or whose parents were too poor to care for them. Under this law, the government would take these “pauper children” and place them in jobs where they could become apprentices and learn a trade.
The law was not usually affective because when children were handed over to the factory owners and usually became slaves. This is a violation of the “Human Rights Document: Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in article 4, which states: no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. Children were used to tend to machines in factories and many worked in the dark, damp coalmines, carrying coal on their backs up ladders. Many children would work 10 to 15 hour days. This is a violation of the “Human Rights Document” in article 24, which states: everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. They were forced to work in dangerous and unhealthy conditions, and their wages were incredibly small. There are many reasons why these children work; poverty, lack of education, lack of knowledge of one’s rights, and cultural tradition are all contributing factors. These children are often deprived and mistreated. They may get beaten or severely punished for making even the slightest mistake. This is another violation of the “Human Rights Document” in article 1, which states: all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Also in article 3, which states: Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of a person. The U.S. Congress passed the first federal child labor law in 1916.
The International Labor organization estimates that there are 250 million children worldwide, between the ages of five and fourteen, who are now working. Africa and Asia together account for over 90 percent of total child employment. Usually there are no age requirements for work. By 1890, nearly 20 percent of U.S. children were employed full time.
In a recent story, a boy named Iqbal Masih, in Pakistan, was forced into child labor as a carpet weaver and suffered terrible abuse. At the age of four, the boy was sold as an indentured servant to a factory owner for the equivalent of sixteen dollars. Iqbal’s parents were forced to sell him in order to feed and clothe the rest of their family, a situation that is extremely common in the poor villages of India. At the factory, Iqbal would begin work around 6 a.m., working 14- hour days with one 30- minute break for lunch. The conditions in the factory were very poor with very little lighting and no fresh air. The children that worked there were not allowed to speak and were often beaten if they broke the rules or made mistakes. When Iqbal turned 10 years old, he was severely beaten by the factory owner, and decided to escape and report it to the police. When the police looked the other way, he was sent back to the factory and was chained to his loom. Some time later, Iqbal escaped and went to a meeting of the Bonded Labor Liberation Front, an organization whose goal was to free Pakistan’s bonded workers. With help from the organization, he could be set free and started to attend a school. Child labor is a violation of the “Human Rights Document” in article 26, which states: Everyone has the right to an education. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations. The ILO, is in charge of the monitoring of worker’s rights by the United Nations.
In the current expanding economy, multinational corporations take advantage of child labor to keep their prices down. A 1996 ILO study concluded that another reason for the high amount of children workers is because children are less aware of their rights, less troublesome, and more willing to take orders without complaining.
The town of Sialkot, Pakistan, is the site of some of the worse child labor practices in the world. Over 7,500 children under the age of fourteen make surgical instruments like scalpels and forceps out of metal. They are exposed to harmful metal vapor and extreme heat that could instantly burn them critically without safety precautions. This is another violation of the “Human Rights Document” in article 23, which states: everyone has the right to work, free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. India’s Finance Minister stated, “We have laws prohibiting child labor, but the government has found it’s not always possible to enforce them in a country as large as India.”
Major export industries which utilize child labor include hand-knotted carpets, gemstone polishing, brass and base metal articles, glass, footwear, textiles, silk, and fireworks. Other industries include, slate mining, furniture making, and food processing.
Annually there are over 200,000 injuries of children in our Nation’s workplaces and 100 deaths among our working youth. During the last 5 months of 1997, reporters from the Associated Press (AP) investigated various workplaces in 16 states and found 165 children working illegally.
According to the U.S. News & World Report in Malaysia, children have worked up to seventeen hours on plantations, exposed to insect and snake- bites. In the United Republic of Tanzania, they pick coffee, inhaling pesticides. In Portugal, children as young as twelve, are subjected to heavy labor and dangers of the construction industry. In Morocco, they receive little pay for knotting the strands of luxury carpets for export. In boot factories, children are forced to sit so close together that they poke each other with needles; many have lost an eye in this way.
In some countries, ideas about kinds of activities are based on the caste system, which categorizes people from birth into economic groups ranging from a ruling upper class to a low class almost as powerless as slaves. In Pakistan, for example, the children with the lowest castes become laborers almost as soon as they can walk.
Another recent chilling story was of a repeated abuse on a domestic worker Dhiraj K.C. When he was a very young child, he began to work for a medical company. According to CWIN, an agency caring for abused child laborers, reported that the children were physically and mentally abused over a period of five years. Dhiraj had numerous scars from being beaten with a hot iron, forced to wear chains from his neck to his feet while he worked, and chained naked outside all night in freezing weather. On one occasion, the employer used a hypodermic needle to inject an anesthetic into Dhiraj’s lip, causing numbness and preventing him from speaking. Another time, the employer pushed handfuls of raw chilies down his throat and then forced him to eat boiling hot rice. He finally escaped by crawling in chains to the streets where the police picked him up; he was then rescued by the CWIN. This was another violation of the “Human Rights Document” in article 5, which states: no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Though there are more child workers in Asia than anywhere else, a higher percentage of African children participate in the work force. Asia is led by India, which has 44 million child laborers, giving it the largest child work force in the world. In Pakistan, 10 percent of all workers are between the ages of ten and fourteen years old. Nigeria has 12 million child workers. Children are sent to work to help support their families who might be in such desperate conditions that even the little salary they receive will help. This is a violation of the “Human Rights Document” in article 25, which states: everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services.
A number of approaches have been suggested to fight child labor. The major attempted solutions have consisted of reducing poverty, educating children, providing support services for working children, raising public awareness, legislating and regulating child labor, and promoting elimination of abusive child labor through international measures. These approaches are, of course, not equally exclusive and are adopted in various combinations in child labor reduction strategies. Not all of these have been adopted, however, the legislation and regulation are major concerns of many governments. Other measures aimed at the direct elimination of child labor include, rescue by NGOs of children in the worst conditions and the establishment of motivational camps in which children leave work and attend informal education and recreational facilities on a residential basis for a period of time.
Dozens of International Labor Organizations conventions and other international treaties pertain to child labor and set guidelines for national laws and policies to eliminate the exploitation of children. The 1989 United Nations (CRC) is one international agreement that indicates broad measures to protect children’s rights. As the preamble to the convention points out, “children, because of their vulnerability, need special care and protection. It emphasizes the responsibility of the family for primary care and protection and also “the need for legal and other protection of the child before and after birth, the importance of respect for the cultural values of the child’s community is the vital role of international cooperation in securing children’s rights.
Several bills were introduced in the U.S. Congress during the early 1900s to regulate child labor in businesses involved in interstate commerce (selling and transporting goods across state lines) but the NCLC did not support federal legislation. In 1995, Senator Tom Harkin, of Iowa, proposed a federal law that calls for a ban on the commercial exploitation of children and prohibits the import of products made by child labor. Companies violating the prohibition against importing these products would be subject to firm penalties.
Working towards a solution, there are many problem areas that need to be addressed when it comes to child labor. One possible solution can be found in education, of both children and adults, in the countries where child labor is common. The more educated the population, the more aware they will be of what is going on around them and how they can make the necessary changes. Their needs to be some type of social awareness in order for any changes to take place. There are so many different organizations here in America that try to raise awareness about child labor. One of these organizations is called Free The Children And Child Labor Coalition.
The ILO could not put an end to all the child labor; they don’t have any legal power. The trade unions are weak and don’t have the funds to do the job. Over several years the proposed law, now known as the Child Labor Deterrence Act, has been reintroduced along with a companion bill in the House. However, no vote has been taken on the House bill and the proposal was still pending at the beginning of 1998.
Some U.S. cities are passing laws to ensure that the goods they purchase are not made in foreign or domestic sweatshops. In 1992, the organization established the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC), which has implemented more than 600 action programs in 27 countries. The goal of these programs is to prevent and fight child labor by helping children withdraw from work in selected villages, provide support services for the children and their families, and change community attitudes towards child labor.
Putting an end to child labor requires changes on many fronts, especially on attitudes about child labor and the world’s poor. To help bring about changes in attitudes, activists in many countries are raising awareness that child labor violates fundamental human rights.
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