Child labor is not as severe an issue as it was a centuries ago, but it still affects millions of kids worldwide. Statistics from the International Labor Organization show that there are about 73 million children between ages 10 and 14 that work in economic activities throughout the world, and 218 million children working worldwide between the ages of 5 and 17. These figures do not even include domestic labor. The child labor problem is worst in Asia, where 44.6 million children have to work. Africa is not much better, with about 23.6 million child laborers, and Latin America has 5.1 million child laborers.
In India 14.4% of all children between the ages of 10 and 14 are employed as child laborers. In Bangladesh the number is 30.1%, in China it is 11.6%, and Pakistan it is 17.7%, and in Kenya it is 41.3%. These numbers just give a small part of the big picture, since they do not include child laborers under the age of 10. It may even be possible that if all of the world’s child laborers were able to be counted, as well as all of the world’s domestic laborers, the number of child laborers could be hundreds of millions!
India is one of the worst offenders of child labor employment. An Indian census in the early 1990s showed that there were about 11.3 million child workers under the age of fourteen, and the number has increased since then. Child labor in India makes up 3.6% of the country’s total work force. A majority of these children (about 85%) work in agricultural jobs. In Northern Indian society many children work in the carpet-weaving industry in order to add to the family income.
Working conditions are appalling but the children need to work anyway in order for their families to avoid going into poverty. India does have a law making it illegal for children under the age of 14 to work, but this law does not apply to family-owned enterprises. This law is also rarely enforced because of the practical necessities of the many rural families living in the country.
Even in the United States, the leading example of the industrialized world, child labor rears its head from time to time, like a decapitated snake that refuses to die. Just over a year ago, inspectors found dozens of illegal and underage immigrants employed at a meatpacking plant in Iowa. The plant discovered that the workers, some as young as 13, were exposed to chemicals and made to work with knives at dizzying speeds with almost no safety training. Many testified of having to endure 17 hour days and sporadic overtime pay. One Guatemalan worker named Elmer was cut by his own knife after being kicked by a supervisor. Each individual violation for each worker carries its own individual fine for each day. Since the plant hired the workers for about a year, they could be facing total fines of up to $1 million.
Children in other struggling countries are not able to receive justice quickly enough as they do in the US:
Kyrgyzstan, a small country in Central Asia, suffered many economic wounds following the collapse of the USSR. Its once prosperous mining industry became defunct. Many Kyrgyzans started to dig the abandoned coal mines in order to survive. However, without proper digging equipment, the amateur miners could only create tunnels of marginal length. Fathers were forced to bring their children to excavate coal as the tunnels of their poverty grew deeper.
Today, it is unknown how many Kyrgyzan children are unofficially employed as miners. However, there are many locals who share the same sentiments about mining:
Kylych makes $3 a day in the mines. The money feeds his family. He wishes he could go to school, but he knows that without his work, his family would be helpless. Kylych has seen his friends die in the mines, and at times he’s been trapped himself.
Zulfia is 35. She’s a widow with 5 children and needs to feed them on less than $2 a day. After her husband died in the mines, the owner offered his job to her 10-year old son. She refused, but she mentions that other people in the area have done it, and how “desperate” everyone’s situation is.
Uluk is 14 years old and works at his local mine with his younger brother. He doesn’t even wear a helmet to work, and has a face obscured by black soot. He mentions the hazardous gases and the risk of combustion in the tunnels potentially killing his brother. He wishes that his brother didn’t have to work, but he admits that he has “little choice.” Uluk’s dream is to become a police officer so that he can protect children.
In the Cote D’Ivoire, there exists a twisted paradox where thousands of children harvest cocoa pods to be enjoyed as chocolate by other children thousands of miles away.
Aly Diabate was eleven years old and living in Mali when a locateur persuaded him to work on a cocoa farm in the Cote D’Ivoire. The locateur said he would receive a bicycle for working there. He worked 12 hour days and was so small that he had trouble carrying the bags of cocoa. Whenever he fell down, the owner of the farm, nicknamed “Big Man,” beat him with branches or, in a sick case of irony, a bicycle chain. He was forced to sleep in a small room with 18 other boys, and once nightfall came, nobody could leave the room. Aly Diabate was eventually freed, paid, and returned to Mali when officials busted the Big Man. He never received a bicycle.
Sadly, as shown in the previous examples child labor is currently something hard to avoid despite many laws in countries around the world prohibiting it. Children are forced into labor because of factors in their lives such as poverty, lack of education, and poor enforcement of the child labor laws. Even if some of the laws are rigorously enforced, they may contain loopholes that overlook child labor in a certain area, such as domestic or agricultural child labor. For example, in the country of Nepal children under the age of 14 cannot work legally in full-time economic jobs, but the occupation of brick clines are exempt from this law. In both Kenya and Bangladesh, child labor laws do not apply to domestic or agricultural jobs. One of the biggest problems with child labor is that the kids involved end up having a hindered mental, physical, emotional and spiritual development.