2014 World Day Against Child Labor Speech by Tom Harkin on the Senate Floor

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) delivered this speech on the Senate floor on  – June 12, 2014:

Mr. President, today, June 12, 2014, is the day set aside by the International Labor Organization to bring attention to the tragic predicament of millions of children across the globe who continue to be trapped in forced and abusive labor, often in extremely hazardous conditions.

So today is the World Day Against Child Labor. It is a day set aside every year globally for people to take a look at what is happening to kids around the globe who are forced into very abusive and exploitative labor conditions.

I think we should obviously think about these children more than just one day a year. We should think about them every day.

In my travels I have seen the scourge of forced and abusive child labor firsthand. Previously on the floor–going back for almost 20 years–I have spoken about how shocked I was to see the deplorable conditions under which some of these kids are forced to work. I have witnessed this personally in places from South Asia to Latin America, to Africa.

These pictures I have in the Chamber are, as a matter of fact, pictures I took myself. This picture was taken in a rug-making place in Kathmandu, Nepal. We were told there were no children being forced into this kind of labor, but under the cover of darkness, on a Sunday night–it was probably after about 8 o’clock in the evening–we were able to make entry into one of these back-alley places, and this is what we came across: young people, girls and boys, some as young as 8 years of age, working at these looms. I remind you, this is at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night. They lived in barracks. They were housed, kind of stacked in barracks, so they could not leave, they could not go anywhere, they could not see their families.

Here is another picture of some older girls. These are young teenage girls working at the same place. I did not take that picture because this is me in the picture. This picture was taken by Rosemary Gutierrez, my staff person.

So I witnessed this firsthand. Even though we were told no such thing existed, we found it did exist.

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How Can We End Child Labor In The Fields? Pay Farmers Better

By Beth Hoffman, contributor to Forbes

A few weeks ago a request for internal documents from the chocolate giant Hershey’s Co moved forward, with a judge ruling that the company will have to share confidential information with its shareholders.  The Louisiana Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System brought legal action against the company in 2012, asserting that the company knowingly bought cocoa from areas plagued with child labor issues.

Even though Hershey’s is the company targeted in the lawsuit, human rights abuses like child labor are still rampant throughout the food supply chain.  Although companies like Mars or Nestlé now publicly discuss child labor in their supply chains, these issues are unlikely to go away when these same companies rely upon cheap land and labor to operate.

Last week the UC Davis School of Law featured a full day conference “Confronting Child Labor in Global Agricultural Supply Chains.”  The conference featured a parade of impressive experts from a wide range of stakeholders, including Mars Co, Bonsucro, the International Labor Organization and the U.S. Department of Labor.  Each presented on the problem of child labor in the fields, and of need to create financial alternatives for rural youth, to educate communities about illegal practices, and to increase productivity in the fields.

But what was not discussed by speakers as a solution to child labor was to substantially raise the price farmers and workers are paid for their work.

Reflecting on the conference, speaker Professor Alfred Babo, an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Bouaké, commented.  … Read the rest

CHILD LABOR IN DOMESTIC WORK

 By Sharon L. Fawcett, CLC Contributing Writer

“I clean the floor many times in a day. When it is not well done, my employer throws the dirty water at my face.” This is how girl from Togo describes her experience with child labor to Anti-Slavery International (ASI) researchers. She is a child domestic worker, enduring her employer’s abuse.

The International Labour Organization estimates that 15.5 million children around the world are involved in domestic work in a home other than their own; 10.5 million of these children are involved in child labor as they are either under the legal minimum working age, or employed in hazardous conditions or conditions akin to slavery.In 2008, 61 percent of children in domestic labor were between 5 and 14 years of age; one-third were under age 12. Seventy-three percent of children engaged in domestic work are girls.

Child domestic labor is one of the most widespread and exploitative forms of child labor in the world. Child domestic workers help with the day-to-day tasks of running a household. These may include cooking, cleaning, caring for children or the elderly, gardening, running errands, and other tasks, as well as selling goods in the marketplace and on the street.These children may live with their employers or separately from them; they may receive financial remuneration for their work or “in kind” payment like food and housing. The hours are long, and many child domestic workers report that they are continually on-call.

The reasons children end up in domestic labor vary by country and region, but poverty is usually a major factor. Child domestic workers are often overlooked in attempts to protect child workers, partly because of the notion that domestic work is a “safe” form of employment. However, because these children work inside private homes, they are especially isolated and at risk for abuse.

According to the ILO, three-quarters of all children in domestic child labor perform hazardous work. This can include children working for at least 43 hours per week, working at night, and being exposed to physical or sexual abuse.

The ILO reports that significant numbers of child domestic workers are victims of trafficking, debt bondage, or servitude.Approximately 225,000 of these children work in Haiti’s restavek system, trapped in what amounts to forced labor and slavery.From the French words rester avec (“to stay with”), restavek children, usually girls, from poor rural backgrounds are given or sold by their parents to work as domestic servants for other families. ASI and Free the Slaves (FTS) report that restavek children are treated as sub-human, and are extremely vulnerable to exploitation as well as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.

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Niger’s Wahayu Endure Domestic and Sexual Enslavement

By Sharon L. Fawcett, CLC Contributing Writer

Niger’s Tahoua region has a history of enslavement dating back to the early 18th-century arrival of the Touaregs, who brought slavery-like practices with them. Today, young girls and women sold as domestic and sexual servants are the victims of this centuries-old scourge.

Although the Nigerien government has maintained, since 2005, that slavery no longer exists in Niger, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL’s) 2013 Trafficking in Persons report and a joint report by UK-based non-governmental organization Anti-Slavery International and Niger-based Timidria, suggest otherwise. According to these reports, it is not uncommon for Nigerien girls to become the victims of human trafficking and forced labor.

In Niger, a girl born into slavery can be sold by her master as a wahaya (plural: wahayu) or “fifth wife” to a wealthy or powerful man in the country’s Tahoua region—or in northern Nigeria—for as little as $400 US (200,000 CFA).

While owning a wahaya is a sign of affluence, wahayu “marriages” are illegitimate because they do not comply with several of the Islamic rules for marital unions. Since they are illegitimate wives, the women “wed” to men through this practice also bear the name “fifth wives”—not one of the four legitimate wives permitted by Islamic practises in a nation where Muslim is the predominant religion.

A wahaya works without pay; she is enslaved in domestic and sexual servitude. Tikirit Amoudar, a 45-year-old who became a wahaya at age 10, described her experience to Anti-Slavery International and Timidria researchers:

My workload was heavy: fetching water for all the family; fetching water for livestock (over 100 cattle); hulling and pounding grain…for food and foodstuffs; providing firewood for the family; [making] large preparations [for] community gatherings in the master’s fields…; washing up; preparing the mistresses’ and the master’s beds; looking after the children and keeping the courtyard clean…

Wahayu face constant physical and verbal abuse from their masters’ legal wives, who may view them as competition. They also live in fear for the welfare of any children they may bear for their master, as these children are considered his legitimate offspring and represent a threat to the inheritance of his other children. The master’s legitimate wife, or wives, may attempt to eliminate those threats through kidnapping, sorcery, or even murder.

Niger’s young wahayu are among the 10.5 million children worldwide who perform domestic child labor. Eighty-three percent of the wahayu interviewed by Anti-Slavery International and Timidria researchers had been sold into this form of servitude before age 15.

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