Opinion Letter: Child Labor
According to the International Labor Organization there are approximately 250 million working children between the ages of 5 and 14. Somewhat around 120 million of them are performing in their jobs on a full time basis. Another half combines with school and other non-economic activities. Impressive numbers, aren’t they? The shame rising from incapability to manage this problem lies not only on developing Africa or certain Asian countries where child labor is most prevalent. Labor of minors exists in industrialized and developed world as well. It includes the United States, Western Europe and many other advanced regions of the Earth. How we should understand the work of minors that has to be abolished? What circumstances pushes towards? What would be the most appropriate way to fight work of children? To my mind these are the most essential questions that we have to understand addressing this issue. Therefore I will review these concerns and make some notices.
What is a child labor? To answer this question we have to be aware what a child is. ILO Convention No.138 provides that the general limit is at 15 years, although under certain national circumstances it is 14 years old boy or a girl. I was wondering whether voluntary decision of a minor to work easy job during the free out of school time to earn some pocket money is somehow contrary to the principles on the abolition of child labor. I came to a decision that there is nothing negative in this. Of course parents’ permition in such case would be appropriate, since children are not always able to make reasonable decisions. In reality work can be interesting and valuable for the child. If he or she works with enthusiasm and willingness, such practice in along run will strengthen child’s self-confidence, self-esteem, independency, responsibility and many other vital features that makes human being strong and competitive. During my yearly teenage I used to work in several different jobs starting from easy ones and ending in a car repair service. I never regret that. All jobs I have chosen by myself in fields were I wanted to get some experience and knowledge. Of course it was not very legal from the side of the employer. Most likely own practice forces most strongly to claim that not all child labor is bad.However sad it is, in most cases children are being forced towards decision to start working, quit schools. They are often mistreated, discriminated in the workplace. That creates the negative side of child labor which is prohibited and is illegal. Work becomes exploitation when children:– work too young: start at 6 or 7 years (or even younger)– work too long hours– work for too little pay– work in hazardous conditions (e.g. in mines, with chemicals, ect.)– work under slave-like arrangements. So accordingly, the mere fact of working child should not create a negative attitude at once. But unfortunately in most cases when children are being involved in work activities their health, welfare and development is threatened. Such phenomenon must be fought by all appropriate and necessary means.
Why children work? Most often children are forced to work by the circumstances related to poverty. In worst cases families are not able to afford even primary school for their descendants. They have to work in order to supplement low incomes of their family. Employers welcome young labor force since children are being paid less, it is easier to exploit them and normally they demand nothing because are weak, vulnerable, both mentally and physically, and are afraid not only of employer but often of their family members as well, who may take drastic measures to punish a child who lost the job. Labor to overcome poverty is more common in developing countries where children work in agricultural and factory industries. But as a matter of fact such child labor contributes to the circle of poverty. In other words this working minor who never saw the doors of the school will grow up some day whose only perspectives will be low paid unskilled hard physical job or no job at all. It was recognized and stressed in the 1997 Oslo Conference on Child Labour, that “use of child labour slows down economic growth and social development <…> there is evidence that investment in human capital from early childhood, e.g., education and health, provides a society with a greater potential for economic and social development”.Children often work under conditions of slavery for factory owners as a form of debt repayment. Such relations exist in South Asia, while in India it is quite it is quite common in agricultural sector. Children are often subject to extreme and hazardous workplace conditions. In agriculture they work on fields full of pesticides. In Tanzania they work on tobacco fields vomiting from nicotine poisoning. In Pakistan minors sharpen and polish surgical knives and scissors inhaling poisonous metal dust. Poverty perhaps is the main decisive factor why children work. However not the only one. A lot of kids are being kidnapped by human traffickers. Girls in most cases (but boys as well) are sold to the members of pornography industry. The industry performing not in a third world country. We are talking about well developed Western Europe, the U.S., Japan, where rich damned sexual gourmands spend their money to satisfy their freaky needs. It is hard even to understand for an ordinary man how young these children sometimes are. Another example where kidnapped children find their destination is entertainment of same rich people in wealthy countries. For instance the races of camels in flourishing United Arab Emirates. Here huge animals are ridden by boys starting from 3 years old who are in most cases kidnapped from Sudan, Pakistan and other similar countries. The only protection of those poor guys is a helmet that is too big for their tiny head. After the race stern coaches take boys of the camels, since little boys are unable to make this by themselves. Visas were issued to them by the government of the UAE. Ironic, but this country has signed a Convention Protecting the Rights of a Child. In the UAE there are no NGO’s or charity organizations that would protect the rights of those children who live subject to exploitation, risk and poverty in the country of unlimited wealth resources. Compatible camel costs 50 million U.S. dollars, while rider of that camel sleeps on the sand and has forgotten his native language long time ago. When boys grow up to 7-8 years old and become too “heavy” for the race, they are simply left in the hands of destine far away from their families. Another paradox is that such race of camels was enjoyed by Prince Charles and Princess Diana as well. In addition to factor of poverty, case of kidnapping the naivety of the population may condemn a child to slavery. In Ghana priests insist that girl should live in a temple in case of minor misconduct of her family member. People there believe that handing girl over to priests will save their families from the angriness of the Gods. Consequently girls pay their freedom and virginity. 100 years ago cows were sacrificed for such purpose. However priest explained that cow is not able to cook, work at home, and take care of him. So, why he should choose a cow instead of girl? That was just some examples of forced, negative child labor. Against which a lot was done, but still more has to be done, since there are no grounds to believe that labor of minors has diminished. Even worse, there are deep concerns among scholars that in certain regions of the world even more children will be forced to work in upcoming decade.
Ways to fight child labor There are numerous legal acts, conventions, treaties setting up standards of labor, prohibiting child labor and securing the rights of a child. They are very important dealing with this problem, but there is no point in listing and naming them here. What is important is to realize that t fight the phenomenon of child labor nice and sound legislation is far from enough. Enforcement must be effective and operative. Since mere legislation without strong enforcement mechanism will push child labor even deeper underground where consequently it will be more and more difficult to detect it. Secondly, the same enforcement measures must be based on well developed and specific strategy in order to combat this problem. Alternatives should be provided for those children, and their families, after they will be withdrawn from jobs where they used to fight poverty. It is not a quality of education must be improved in poor countries but availability and accessibility of learning process. Since today poor people are not able to afford even minimum education to their offspring. That includes economic factor as well as number of schools in a particular region. Distance from countryside to the educational institution quite often plays a crucial role deciding what the child will do. Furthermore, intervention in educational system must go together with changes and improvements in family support services. Scholar writings suggest that a phased, multi-sectoral strategy is needed to overcome the abuses of children. This should consist of the following steps:– strengthening existing organizations and setting up institutional mechanisms;– creating awareness on the problem nationwide, in communities and workplaces;– promoting the development and application of protective legislation;– supporting direct action with (potential) child workers by providing alternatives to children and their parents.The reality is that whatever strategies are taken “they must be country specific and be based on a genuine commitments from within the country” in order to be successful.
Conclusion What I wanted to say in this short paper is that not all forms of child labor should be condemned. But there have to be put all efforts to prevent and abolish offensive and negative child labor. This concerns not only poor regions of the world. The officials of wealthy developed countries have to wake up as well. They have to open their eyes and take appropriate steps that minors would not be subjected to prostitution and similar stuff. For us, citizens of the Baltics, it is also more than enough to turn around and to evidence the horror of child exploitation. Let us hope that the trafficking of Lithuanian girls to West will stop one day. That Latvian Parliamentarians will never ever entangle into scandals of pedophilia again.