But 151.6 million kids are still going to work
You may be familiar with this picture.
It was taken in the early 1900s, when children as young as 6 years old were working in US factories for up to 19 hours a day, producing America’s textiles. It’s a picture that’s been widely shared, kept by the Library of Congress and printed in children’s textbooks as a representation of our country’s past and the horrors we’ve left behind.
The image itself is a dated relic, but child labor is still a widespread issue, taking place in countries all over the world. Even in America, child labor is still a regular occurrence, despite 80-year-old Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations that establish the minimum ages and minimum wages and limit the hours worked for certain jobs, for children between the ages of 14 and 17.
According to Alliance87.org, a global partnership focused on eradicating slavery, human trafficking, and child labor there are still 151.6 million children aged 5 to 17 engaged in child labor around the globe. Of these, 72.5 million children perform hazardous work that “places their health, safety, or moral development at risk.”
Today, that little boy looks very much like this little boy.
Child labor in 2018
Child labor doesn’t mean assigning chores around the house or even asking your teenager to mow the lawn. Rather, it’s defined globally as “work that is hazardous, demands too many hours, or is performed by children who are too young.”
These live in stark contrast to what most of us envision for today’s children: Kids of all ages shoveling coffee beans and coal, picking cotton, carrying stacks of bricks, or working on enormous looms. These children live infinitely different lives from those who grow up sheltered by after-school programs and other safe activities.
Alliance87.org estimates 19.6 percent of African children (or 1 in 5) is a victim of child labor, as of 2017. That’s followed by Asia and the Pacific at 7.4 percent and the Americas at 5.3 percent. While many of these children live in impoverished nations, more than half come from middle to upper-middle income countries, proving child labor isn’t just a third-world problem.
And child labor isn’t limited to work done in fields and factories, though that should be bad enough. It’s also the reality of young boys and girls working as prostitutes or child soldiers. In Bangladesh, for instance, where prostitution is legal, children born to women who work in brothels often go on to work under the same conditions at just 10 years of age, making $3 to $6 of income a day. That money is typically paid to the brothel’s madam in return for food, clothing, and a place to sleep.
World Day Against Child Labour
It’s no wonder, then, that in 2002, the International Labour Organization launched World Day Against Child Labour, seeking to “focus attention on the global extent of child labor and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it.”
The movement has been taken up by organizations like Compassion International, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations. Efforts to end child labor are among the sustainable development goals adopted by all countries of the UN in 2015.
To quote the United Nations website, “The returns on the investment in ending child labor are incalculable. Children who are free from the burden of child labor are able to fully realize their rights to education, leisure, and healthy development, in turn providing the essential foundation for broader social and economic development, poverty eradication, and human rights.”
This year, the International Labour Organization is joining two massive campaigns, World Day Against Child Labour and World Day for Safety and Health at Work. The goal is to spread awareness and achieve certain goals that will help end child labor, while simultaneously making working conditions safer for all.
Some of their initiatives include working toward a quality education for all children, where occupational safety and health are integrated into their training. Other initiatives help young workers gain access to trade union memberships that can help them exercise their rights to collective bargaining, as well as gain access to areas where children are most vulnerable to child labor.
You don’t have to leave your work or home to get involved and show your support for a world without child labor. Follow the action on Twitter or Facebook, and spread the message to bring awareness to this important cause.
If you’re reading this from the US, it also wouldn’t hurt to brush up on the regulations set down by the U.S. Department of Labor and your own state’s wage and hour laws. The YouthRules! website is a great resource for learning more and making sure your company and our nation’s kids are protected.