WASHINGTON, D.C. — The old saying about children being our future is as true now as it was ever. A nation’s future is largely decided on how it treats and takes care of its children. Children brought up with access to good healthcare and a proper education move a country forward with each generation while children kept from these advantages largely hurt a nation in the next generation. It’s unsurprising then that most of the world has built legislation to keep children from being exploited for cheap labor.
Employers looking to put the littlest generation to work face a slew of international, national and local laws in place that are very restrictive about child labor. Ever since the passage of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) children are protected from dangerous jobs like those involved with manufacturing and services. While agriculture positions are still a viable option for the career-minded adolescent in America (no minimum age for non-hazardous work), new legislation is introduced frequently that makes it difficult for even the children from the lowest rungs of society to be forced into labor.
Still, for many children overseas the rules aren’t as clear and compulsory labor is often an everyday event for children as young as six. The poor child working in a diamond mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not only exposed to dangers that can cost life and limb but is also kept from any means of advancement. Assuming that the child lives into adulthood he will have zero skills outside of mining for diamonds.
International organizations are constantly at work to keep children out of these jobs in the developing world. The International Child Labor Program, for example, has a wide array of programs that identify the worst forms of child labor and list goods that are believed to be produced by child laborers. Buyers dedicated to fair trade can avoid these goods produced by children through this handy reference. Everything from bricks out of Afghanistan to tobacco grown in Zambia has made the list of goods manufactured by child labor. As an added bonus the list also states whether the labor was forced on the children.
Another organization that has dealt extensively with child labor around the world is the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), a division of the International Labor Organization. IPEC’s focus is on the worst kinds of child labor, such as hazardous work, slavery and prostitution. The organization takes a multifaceted strategy when combating the exploitation of children by running a worldwide awareness campaign, conducting analysis of various child labor problems throughout the world and developing protective legislation amongst the international community.
Organizations like IPEC and the International Child Labor Program can help greatly in combating the exploitation of child labor, but ultimate responsibility remains with legislators to stop it. The aforementioned Fair Labor Standards Act passed back in 1938 was built not to keep children out of the workforce but rather to keep them safe. The basics of U.S. policy in regards to child labor is that a little work is all right just so long as it doesn’t interfere with education, doesn’t endanger the child and doesn’t exploit the child. In practice this is severely limiting towards a young person’s ability to work, especially for those younger than 16 years of age.
Most of the developed world has its own equivalent to the FLSA that dictates when, where and what children can do to earn their keep. In England the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 serves the same function as the FLSA and applies to any youths under the age of 16. In Germany they have the Jungendarbeitschutzgesetz (Child Worker Safe Law) and in France there’s the Code Du Travail (Code of Work). There’s always room for improvement but at this point your chances of seeing a child in the first world involved with anything hazardous or exploitive are slim to none. The developing nations are not so lucky but with help will get to the same point as their first-world allies.
As international organizations like IPEC and the International Child Labor Program work with developing nations around the world, instances of children being forced into labor will continue to dry up in the third world as well. The day may come soon where children of every nation will get to go to school, learn to improve the world around them and only perform work when that work is safe and doesn’t take advantage of them. When this happens the eight-year-old working in a sweatshop, the child soldier abducted into a war that he can’t possibly understand and the child hauling coal up from the bottom of a mine will simply get to enjoy their youth untainted by dangerous and unethical work.