January 3, 2013

Annabelle Pendlebury

Consider for a moment the way most of us in our society are lucky enough to be sitting in a warm, safe, clean office or classroom each day, surrounded by all the material things we take for granted. Then consider the 200 million children around the globe who have barely enough money for survival, that have been made to enter the workforce simply to keep their families alive. While they work in extremely unhealthy and unsafe conditions, in jobs not fit at all for little children, our kind of life isn’t an option for them.  Dream large is not what they’re told. They are just focused on surviving in the appalling conditions they live in. This is not just a few, but more than 200 million children we are talking about, some barely four years old, who don’t have the basic rights that children should have. So I think it’s time, firstly, that we were made more aware of what suffering is actually out there because of child labour, and secondly, I think it’s time our government took on more responsibility in providing aid to these disadvantaged countries, so these children can live their lives just as you and I are trying to live ours.

Selling flowers for only 5 cents in Bangladesh

There are endless stories that could be told about the miserable working conditions these child labourers endure, such as those working in brick kilns making bricks from dawn to dusk, for only a few cents a day, or those who are physically and verbally abused by employers. Stories even more shocking are of children like Nagashar, a labourer in a carpet factory with scars all over his body, including his voice box, where he’d been branded with red hot irons for trying to escape. This treatment is sadly what is normal in the factories and workplaces that exploit children. Their treatment is bad, but the work they are forced to do is often even more dangerous, some little children working in factories where they have to mix gunpowder for firecrackers, or sort through used syringes from hospitals. Hardly any payment, abuse by their employers and dangerous, unsafe jobs are the conditions in which children work in many developing countries. “It was like a prison, we worked from 5 a.m. until midnight making carpets and we slept among the machines” – a quote from one little child, Kumar, that truly expresses such misery. This is not just facts statistics, it’s real children. The truth is, child labour is a form of child abuse.

To add to this unhappy reality, these children miss out on having a normal childhood when they’re forced to work from such young ages and don’t receive the education they should. How is it fair that children are sitting on the ground 12 hours a day, sewing soccer balls for famous brands, soccer balls shipped off to other countries perhaps for people like you or me to buy, and these children sitting on the ground sewing soccer balls will never have the chance to buy one for themselves. Because this is their childhood, this hard gruelling labour is how they are growing up.

Unfortunately, child labour is closely associated with poverty. So even though the right to education has a central place in human rights, many poor families are unable to afford school fees or other school costs. The family then sends a child to work to contribute to the household’s income. Children as young as four are forced into factories, and so they miss out on education. But, more than ever today, children need a good quality education and training to acquire the skills necessary to help lift themselves out of poverty. When children who’ve had the benefits of education grow up, they are more likely to choose to send their own children to school. So investing in education is a sound economic decision. This is why I believe it is so important for our government to take on more responsibility in aiding poorer countries so they can send their children to school, not a factory.

Hard labour in a brick factory

Even though the argument for child labour has long been that families in poverty need their children to work, there is no excuse for child abuse. Studies by UNICEF have shown that child labour is actually keeping developing countries poor, because a child at work means an adult out of work. This is much worse for a family in poverty because factory owners prefer to hire children over adults as they are paid less, easily intimidated and won’t organize trade unions. India has 50 million child workers, but 55 million adults unemployed. Yet surely as it is the adults who can negotiate for better rights and working conditions, work should be given to adult members of the family – even more so because these children aren’t able to go to school, so they remain illiterate, and the cycle of poverty continues.

Perhaps it would be better to argue that companies that go into developing countries contracting cheap labour should be paying their workers a fair wage so that children will not have to work instead of adults. The argument that child labour is an ‘unavoidable part’ of poverty is immoral. We should not accept the exploitation of children under any circumstances and they should not be condemned to a life of poverty and lost opportunity.

Children fishing for their employer in Bangladesh

It’s clear that this awful crime of child labour must be stopped, and as consumers, I say we bear part of the responsibility. Instead of accepting that the world we live in is just unfair and that’s the way it is, it’s up to us to keep it a place worth living for every single little person out there. It’s time our country reached out a hand to those poor suffering children – citizens of the world as much as we are – and let them live their lives to their full potential, as children should.

If you would like to play a part in putting an end to the injustice of child labour, click on these links to get informed, discover which retail organisations are child labour free, and ways to become involved:

United Nations

Ethical Consumer Guide 

Stop the Traffik

Only Just – Fair Trade Store in Montmorency

Annabelle Pendlebury

Photos courtesy of “GiveAwaySmile” on Flickr

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