stolen dreams

The next time you shop around, I hope you realize that the garden stone, handmade rug, or silk scarf available at your favorite store was probably made with child labor. I hope you think of twelve-year-old Ramesh, who works in a silk factory in North India.

Every day, he has to put his hands in boiling water to remove the thread from the silkworms, and although silk is expensive on the international market, Ramesh himself earns around $1 a day. That’s not all, at the end of the day his hands are red and blistered due to the inhumane nature of his work. But Ramesh is not alone. There are millions of children like him, 158 million according to UNICEF. They are everywhere but invisible, working as domestic servants in homes, working behind workshop walls, hidden from view on plantations. Children work in mines, in the agricultural sector with chemicals and pesticides, and with dangerous machinery. Sectors that employ children are often informal with no legal or regulatory protection. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 22,000 children die in work-related accidents each year.

Child labor is prevalent around the world and no country is immune: there are 2.5 million children working in developed economies and another 2.5 million in economies in transition. In sub-Saharan Africa, around one in three children is involved in child labour, representing 69 million children, while there are another 44 million child laborers in South Asia. Apart from this, an estimated 8.4 million children are trapped in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities (source: UNICEF).

Child labor is one of the greatest consequences of poverty and illiteracy throughout the world. For poor children, going to school competes with a host of other demands on their time and energy, such as contributing to the family income, caring for younger siblings, and doing chores. And then there are times when the kids have no choice. Families exchange their children with an employer for money (sometimes as little as US$15) and the children remain slaves for the rest of their lives.

Currently, most countries have laws that prohibit child labor and slavery. However, such laws have many loopholes and are often poorly implemented. In India, for example, the law prohibits children under the age of 14 from working in factories, slaughterhouses or other dangerous places, but there are some exceptions for farm work: if the hours are limited, the children are in school and there is no machines to operate. . But the children often spend ten hours a day in the fields and miss school. The Indian government itself, in its most recent count (from a 2001 census), estimates that 12.6 million children under the age of 14 are working in India. But nonprofit organizations that work with these children put the number much higher: 50 million. The situation is much worse in war-torn Africa and in other parts of Asia such as Bangladesh and Myanmar, where the majority of the population lives below the poverty line.

A change in attitude is needed to eradicate child labor. Every child has the right to education and a safe childhood. All children have the right to dream and we can make it come true. What we have to do is remind governments of the promises made and support every effort made to fulfill those promises. We must decide not to employ children or buy products made by children. We must only be willing to help those who never have the same opportunities as us; all we have to do is worry. It is an important commitment that we all have to make to break this intergenerational cycle of poverty. The change must begin within each one of us. And it must end only when all children are free to be children.

There are many creative and simple ways that you can get involved in the fight against child labor and other problems that plague our world. We can all make this world a better place for everyone.

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