SEATTLE — Many children in the developing world begin working as soon as they are physically able, regardless of whether they have reached the minimum age for employment. A child laborer is defined as a person who is too young to work or is engaging in activities that have proven detrimental to their physical, mental, social, or educational development.
The statistics surrounding child labor are upsetting. In developing countries, approximately 13 percent of children between the ages of five and 14 are child laborers. In sub-Saharan Africa, where child labor is the most common, this number rises to 25 percent. Although boys are slightly more likely to be child laborers than girls, there is very little gender disparity in most regions. In total, there are about 200 million child laborers worldwide. seventy-three million of these children are below the age of 10 and about 120 million are working in hazardous conditions. Most are on farms, producing crops such as coffee or cocoa, while 20 million are toiling in factories.
June 12 marked the World Day Against Child Labor, a global initiative launched in 2002. The purpose of the day is bring widespread awareness to the worldwide extent of child labor, as well as the progress needed to wipe out the practice. This year’s theme was “No to Child Labor, Yes to Quality Education.” Global “quality education” would consist of free, compulsory and comprehensive education for all children below the minimum age of employment. In order to achieve this, efforts must be undertaken to reach current child laborers, policies concerning child labor and education must be effective and consistently enforced, and policies guaranteeing access to education must be in place.
The International Labour Organization recently released The World Report on Child Labour 2015: Paving the way to future decent work for young people. This report states that the child labor is strongly associated with lower educational attainment and children working in hazardous occupations are even more likely to have left school before reaching the minimum employment age. When children must leave school early to work, they are less likely to secure stable jobs as adults and face a greater risk of chronic unemployment. There is a high chance that their own children will share their fate. Some children do try to balance school and work, but are very likely to drop out when faced with this predicament. This is why the ILO states that keeping children in school until the legal working age should be highly prioritized when it comes to ending child labor.
In their work toward ending child labor, the ILO stresses the need for quality education, and to focus developmental policies in three specific areas: safe and stable work for adults, social protection, and welfare programs, and, most importantly, quality education systems. The link between child labor and a lack of education is abundantly clear and addressing this connection is the first step to positive change for the world’s children.
– Jane Harkness