Forced labor

Child labor.

According to the International Labor Organization, it is estimated that about 215 million children perform child labor worldwide. Although child labor is prevalent in all areas of the world, the majority of the cases are found in developing countries. One of the main causes of child labor is
poverty. Families often depend on the extra income that a child can provide. Other times, family members cannot afford to send their children to school, which results in children being forced into labor. Families can also use their own children as additional sources of agricultural labor and find working to be more important than education.

Child labor can have many adverse effects on employed children, ranging from a decrease in educational opportunities to physical harm inflicted by the machines they use. Child labor can also be driven by inadequate access to education: specifically, if a school is too expensive or far away. Although child labor is less prevalent in developed countries, these countries are still at fault for the widespread use of child labor throughout the world. Often times, it is the consumers of developed countries that buy products made by child laborers, fueling the need for such labor. Although most countries have laws restricting child labor, these laws are often times not enforced or not followed by citizens.

Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should be “protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” Even though 193 countries have ratified the convention, child labor is still widely prevalent and more steps are needed in order to ensure that children’s rights are truly being protected.

History of the Problem

The use of child labor has been prevalent throughout most of history and all corners of the world. From the earliest times, children have been captured, enslaved and forced to work in decrepit conditions both alongside their families and alone. Furthermore, children have been forced to work in factories and agriculture in order to support or provide free labor for their families. Because of their inability to defend themselves and due to their nativity, children have been easily exploited in all sectors of the workforce throughout history.

Current Situation

Today, over 215 million children worldwide continue to be victims of child labor. Out of the entire youth population of the world, one out of every six children is forced to work. Of these children, about half are subject to the worst forms of child labor, putting them at higher risk of injury, disease or death as a result of the work. In fact, each year, about 22,000 children lose their lives in accidents occurring on job sites. While the largest population of child laborers is found in Southeast Asia, the region with the highest proportion of the youth population at work is Sub-Saharan Africa. In this region, nearly 70 million children are forced to work, representing nearly one in three children under the age of fourteen. Currently, about 15 percent of the world’s children are involved in child labor. However, when examining the rate in the least developed countries, this percentage increases to about 23 percent. While both females and males are victims of child labor, a slightly higher percentage of boys are involved in child labor. Logically, the difference between the amount of female and male children being forced to work varies by region of the world, but overall, there is no drastic variance between the two sexes. The probability that a child will be forced to perform child labor also depends on where the child is born and the situation of the family that he or she is born into. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, children living in rural areas are more likely to work than those in urban areas. In rural areas, 43 percent of the child population works while 25 percent work in city areas. Additionally, children born into families of higher economic status are less likely to be forced into labor than those born into families of low economic status. Furthermore, the education level of a child’s primary caretaker has the potential to influence the child’s chances of entering the workforce at a young age. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it is shown that if a child’s mother has, at a minimum, a primary school education, her children are less likely to be child laborers than the children of mothers lacking any form of formal education at all. Although some progress has been made in the reduction of child labor in recent years, this progress has not been steady. From the year 2000 to 2004, the rate of child labor declined by 10 percent. However, from 2004 until the present, the rate has declined by only 3 percent, suggesting that the rate of child labor reduction is slowing drastically. Additionally, different age groups show varying rates of reduction. For example, while the amount of children working between the ages of five and fourteen has declined by about 10 percent, at the same time, the number of child laborers between the ages of 15 and 17 has unfortunately increased by a staggering 20 percent. Furthermore, when comparing the decline of child labor between the genders, a significant disparity can be seen. Since 2004, the number of female child laborers has decreased by 15 percent. However, this welcoming trend cannot be seen with the opposite gender. During the same time period, the number of males forced into child labor has, in fact, increased. The decline of child labor around the world also varies between different regions. For instance, statistics collected regarding children aged five to fourteen show that the number of child laborers in this age group has declined in Latin America and the Caribbean, but has increased in Sub-Saharan Africa during the same time period.

Finding a solution that effectively eradicates child labor is by no means an easy or simple task. There are many factors that fuel the presence of underage workers throughout the world and in order to eliminate child labor, the underlying issues need to be addressed.


Forced labor