History, Impact today

Child Slavery: Raising Awareness Can Stop It

child slavery

Child Labor in Modern Society

In 1999, the International Labor Organization, which created ILO Convention 182, which defined the worst forms of child labor. The convention was ratified by 180 countries as of October 2015. The worst forms of child labor include slavery, trafficking of children, debt and other forms of bondage, forced or compulsory labor, including recruitment for military purposes, prostitution, production of pornography, being used by adults in the commission of crime such as theft or drug trafficking or any work likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

According to 2015 World Report on Child Labor from International Labor Organization, 168 million children remain trapped in child labor. Of that number, 47.5 million are youth aged 15-17 performing hazardous work.

Despite ratification of the convention, according to the 2015 World Report on Child Labor, 168 million children remain trapped in child labor, although the number has declined from the 246 million in the year 2000. Of that number, 47.5 million are youth aged 15-17 performing hazardous work. Asia and the Pacific constitute the highest number at 78 million or 9.3%, but Sub-Saharan African countries report the highest incidence per capita at 59 million or 21%, followed by 9.2 million or 8.4% in the Middle East and North Africa and 13 million or 8.8% in Latin America and the Caribbean. 59% of all child slavery occurs in the field of agriculture.

The Long-lasting Effects of Child Labor

Evidence from countries where data is available consistently show that involvement in child labor results in lower educational attainment and a reduction in the likelihood of obtaining future work that provides more than basic subsistence. For those who fall victim to forms of child slavery other than agriculture, the long-term effects can be even more devastating.

For example, it is estimated that one million children in Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia are forced to work in unregulated mines. From as young as the age of three, when bones are still forming, many suffer from bone deformities caused by carrying heavy loads.

Exposure to chemicals and dust cause permanent damage to the respiratory and nervous system and these children have no access to either healthcare or education.

According to a recent article in the Business Times, Anti-Slavery International reports that there are approximately 300,000 child soldiers in more than 30 conflict-ridden places around the world. These child soldiers are forced to kill or be killed by those who tear them away from their families. In many cases, even the few children who survive, rather than being liberated from their captors, themselves face war tribunals and imprisonment.

Girls are particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation for profit and unpaid domestic service. Young women, often victims of child slavery, are often arrested for prostitution and fined or imprisoned. A criminal record further reduces their ability to find other work and escape their owners. There are many examples of child slavery in which children are abducted and sold at such a young age that they never learn that any other way of life exists. In the United States, there are an estimated 50,000 domestic slaves, and it is estimated that up to 17,500 more are brought into the country each year. Most are kept hidden and remain completely dependent upon their captors.

Even boys are often subjected to being forced into prostitution in the underworld of child slavery. An internal investigation for UNICEF revealed evidence of young boys being sexually exploited by men in Kabul and other regions of Afghanistan. Further, they found that police officers and other men in positions of political power, including Western visitors, often participated in the practice.

Positive Actions People Can Take to Stop Child Slavery and Labor

According to one article, one of the most important ways the average person can help stop the practice of child slavery is through exercising their consumer power. That means researching the business practices of companies and boycotting those who profit from any form of child labor. This can be difficult to achieve. For example, in 2010 an undercover BBC journalist discovered that the cocoa industry participated in child slavery, and that even chocolate stamped with a Fair trade seal may not in fact be child-labor-free. However, increasing consumer awareness is an important step towards putting companies that save labor costs by utilizing child labor out of business.

The Institute for Humane Education offers additional tips, resources and suggestions. Among those suggestions is putting pressure on retailers to hold wholesalers more accountable for their business practices. More customers demanding the Fair Trade Label on products has already resulted in some positive changes.

The CIRCLE (Community-based Innovations for the Reduction of Child Labor through Education) organization believes that through best practices consisting of awareness, education, advocacy and investment, it is possible to eliminate the human tragedy of child slavery.

child slavery
Children road workers near Rishikesh, India, by Paul Rudd, CC2.0
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