ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Although the past decade has seen significant progress in the reduction of child labor, the statistics are still staggering. Today, approximately 168 million children worldwide are trapped in child labor. “The global figures only tell part of the story,” though, says Jo Becker, Director of the Children’s Rights Division for Human Rights Watch.
The life these children are forced to live becomes a perpetual cycle, as they sacrifice their most basic rights (and their future) just to earn basic necessities for survival.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) defines child labor as any “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” While the definition is broad, the ILO explains that, “Whether or not particular forms of ‘work’ can be called ‘child labor’ depends on the child’s age, the type and hours of work performed, the conditions under which it is performed and the objectives pursued by individual countries.”
The causes of child labor include high level of poverty and unemployment, limited access to compulsory, free education, violations of existing laws or codes of conduct, inadequate laws and enforcement and exemptions included within national laws.
At 59 percent, the agriculture sector remains the top sector where child labor is found, with the services and industry sectors not far behind. The United States Department of Labor has identified over 130 products produced by children, with the top products including bricks, tobacco, cotton, coffee, sugarcane, cattle, rice, pornography, diamonds, stones, cocoa and fish.
The two most important international provisions protecting the rights of children are the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor (ILO Convention Number 182.)
The CRC, adopted in 1989, “is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights” specifically dedicated to children’s rights. It is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, holding national governments accountable for protecting and ensuring children’s rights and interests.
The purpose of ILO Convention Number 182, adopted in 1999, was to help strengthen existing provisions on child labor and bring more international attention to the matter. The Convention “helped to focus the international spotlight on the urgency of action to eliminate as a priority, the worst forms of child labor without losing the long term goal of the effective elimination of all child labor.”
International efforts throughout the past decade have reduced child labor by one-third. For girls, the numbers fell by 40 percent; by comparison, child labor for boys decreased by 25 percent. U.S. Department of Labor 2012 statistics, divided by region, indicate:
- Asia & Pacific: 77.8 million children
- Sub-Saharan Africa: 59 million children (28.8 million of which are engaged in the worst forms of child labor)
- Latin America & the Caribbean: 12.5 million children
- Middle East & North Africa: 9.2 million children
In spite of the steady progress made in reducing child labor, significant challenges remain for legal protection efforts, as “many countries have good laws that protect children from exploitation, but they lack enforcement.”
The U.S. has enacted several laws that address the importation of goods made with child labor, including Section 307 of the tariff Act of 1930, Executive Order 13126 on the “Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor” and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005. The U.S. Bureau of International Labor Affairs also has child labor projects active in over 50 countries, worth over $200 million, which “seek to remove children from the exploitative work situations and provide them with rehabilitation services and educational opportunities.”
– Rifk Ebeid