This poem was written by Kenyan school girls about child labor. It’s reiteration of “father and mother” shows how hard it is for children to understand the poverty that forces their parents into complicity and how easy it is for traffickers and child exploiters to convince children their own parents do not want or care about them in order to exploit them.
Today is the 10th anniversary of the International Labor Organization’s adoption of a resolution to confront conditions that promote and exploit child labor around the world and the 7th anniversary of World Day Against Child Labor. World Day Against Child Labor “is intended to serve as a catalyst for the growing worldwide movement against child labour” and “provides an opportunity to gain further support of individual governments and that of the ILO social partners, civil society and others, including schools, youth and women’s groups as well as the media, in the campaign against child labour.” (ILO) This year the focus is specifically on the exploitation of girls who make up slightly less than 1/2 of all documented or estimated child laborers, and probably make up even more than that once we factor in largely undocumented unpaid labor.
According to the ILO, 100 million girls work as child laborers. While many of them do the same or similar work as boys, they are also more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, trafficking, and other engendered abuses in the workplace. Girls are also often the first to be taken out of school to provide unpaid household labor or sold as domestics or sex workers to pay off mounting debts.
While this issue is often considered a “global,” read non-US, issue, the AFL-CIO estimates that 400,000 to 500,000 migrant children work in the U.S. These children work in unsafe conditions like the ones that killed pregnant teen Maria last year on a vineyard picking grapes for cheap wine or exposes children to pesticides. Even when they are not exposed to excessive heat or chemicals, their work hours can run up to 12 hours or more. Other migrant children work to clean the homes of prominent families on the East Coast and Midwest, often enduring isolation, physical and mental abuse, and threat.
In most of these cases, children’s work schedules do not permit time for consistent schooling. Girls without educations are all the more likely to be exploited and abused later in life. The statistics related to low educational attainment levels amongst girls and their exposure to violence, exploitation, and abuse are undisputed. Yet, often people who employee child labor claim that the children are not workers, ie that they employ adults only and cannot be blamed if those adults bring children to work even tho they take the fruit of those children’s labor, or that they have saved them from “much worse conditions in their home countries,” so it is ok if they exploit them in their own homes or shops.
According to the ILO, nearly two-thirds of working girls between five and 14 years old are engaged in agricultural work. Agro-labor is one of the three most dangerous sectors in terms of job-related deaths, accidents, and occupational illnesses.
The National Consumer League estimates that 1 teen worker dies from injuries in unsafe work conditions in the U.S. every 10 days.
Children outside of the U.S. often work to produce the items that are in the highest demand in the West, like diamonds, gold, oil, coal, and coffee. Because of their low or non-existent salaries, children may not ever receive needed health care for injuries or chronic health problems caused by the work. They may be trafficked throughout the world as a result of conflicts and kidnappings, so that their parents may not even know where to look for them. Orphaned children are among the most exploited around the world because there is no one to protect them.
UNICEF also estimates that 300,000 children are being exploited in conflict zones around the world. Instability caused by global capitalism and genocides leave children open to this kind of exploitation turning them from innocent children to child soldiers and rape gangs.
While child soldiers are often boys, girls are also conscripted. Worse, girls are often forced to marry adult soldiers or sexually abused as a matter of “breaking in” child soldiers. Girl children are often kept as sexual and domestic labor in extended conflicts as well, forever altering the course of their development.
What you can do:
- educate yourself by following the links in this post and/or joining the UNICEF mailing list
- get involved locally by supporting programs for girls and migrant workers
- hold discussions and forums on child labor around the world
- donate to organizations that support the end to the exploitation of child labor, women and girls, and wars and conflicts
- if you have time, volunteer with organizations that help ensure that marginalized groups are self-sufficient