SEATTLE — The International Labour Organization (ILO) celebrated the first World Day Against Child Labour in 2002. Observed on June 12, the holiday raises awareness for the tens of millions of children worldwide who are forced or driven into hard labor before their 18th birthdays.
A reported 168 million children, or one in 10 youth, globally are forced to work. These child laborers sacrifice their childhoods, their education and their health in order to provide for their families.
Since the mid-1990s, the international community has rallied against child labor. Though the practice was largely ended in the U.S. and Europe by the middle of the century, the developing world, in particular, still lags behind.
Today, local governments and NGOs strive to end child labor in even the most impoverished places.
Child laborers are a common sight in the land-locked African nation of Burkina Faso. The mining industry is a major contributor to the problem. Children as young as 10 are employed in the country’s copper, coal and gold mines. At the mines, they are put to work carrying ore, pounding stones or performing other back-breaking labor.
As many as 80 percent of child mine-workers have never attended school. These children cannot read or write, and without intervention, they will likely die early and in poverty.
However, aid groups are working to lift children up out of the mines of Burkina Faso. UNICEF, in partnership with the international group Terre des Hommes, is working in five regions where the country’s rates of child labor are the highest. Their goal is to remove children from the dangerous industrial work environment and place them into career training.
Since most of Burkina Faso’s child laborers will never complete the traditional education track, UNICEF’s vocational schooling can mean the difference between poverty and prosperity. Students are taught to take on trades, including dressmaking, carpentry, welding and tailoring.
During UNICEF’s time in Burkina Faso, they have succeeded in bringing 20,000 children out of mine work and providing them with alternative education.
In the eastern Indian province of Jharkhand, both the government and local activists are taking a stand against child labor.
Government officials have recently pledged to put an end to child labor in the state within the next five years. In a region where as many as one in six child laborers have never attended school, this could lead to a victory for communities of all sizes.
Job Zachariah, chief and representative of UNICEF Jharkhand, reports on their determination. He and the rest of Jharkhand’s leadership want to create a social norm that opposes child abuse, including child labor, child marriage and child trafficking.
At the same time, Jamshedpur’s local NGO, Adarsh Seva Sansthan, is also battling for the rights of children. The group’s activists invite children to come from nearby slums and to learn about their rights. They have held drawing competitions to inspire children’s creativity and conducted surveys to assess the conditions in which children are living and working.
Though there are not yet any laws against child labor enforced in India, Jharkhand is trying to deal with the problem on its own accord. With any luck, other states will follow suit, and the end of child labor and child abuse will come swiftly.
UNICEF reports that as many as 3 million Brazilian children are employed as child laborers. During this year’s World Cup, that number is expected to rise. Though these children are all at risk of exploitation and physical violence, certain groups are especially vulnerable, including female domestic workers, male drug mules and indigenous children of all genders.
Yet like Burkina Faso and Jharkhand, Brazil is taking steps to stop the abuse of these and other affected children. The Brazilian government has implemented several strategies to put an end to child labor, including public awareness campaigns, law enforcement training and a long-awaited legislative act that will punish sexual predators and abusers.
Additionally, UNICEF has teamed up with the Brazilian government in order to create Projeta Brasil, a smartphone application which teaches witnesses how to report child abuse and even allows them to file reports directly from their phones. The application — available in English, Spanish and Portuguese — also includes teaching tools about violence against children. Projeta Brasil was designed to protect children during the 2014 World Cup, but its reach could be far greater than a single tournament.
In 2000, as many as 215 million child laborers were working worldwide. Since then, that number has been cut by almost a third, indicating that large-scale efforts to end child labor are taking effect. With enough time and hard work, activists, governments and parents hope to one day bring that number to zero.
– Patricia Mackey