Alarmingly, these numbers pre-date the Covid-19 pandemic, which is forcing even more children into exploitative and dangerous child labor. Human Rights Watch, Friends of the Nation, and the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights recently interviewed dozens of children in Ghana, Nepal, and Uganda to document the impact of the pandemic on their lives. They told us how their parents lost jobs when businesses closed, couldn’t get to markets to sell their goods, or lost customers during lockdowns. Their schools closed, and with little or no government assistance, the children felt they had no choice but to work to help their families survive.The children worked at brick kilns, carpet factories, gold mines, stone quarries, fisheries, in construction, and in agriculture. Others sold food or goods on the street. They described working long hours for meager wages, often under dangerous conditions. One 12-year-old girl crushed rocks at a stone quarry for seven hours a day.
The world is making significant progress in removing the scourge of child labor—there are 94 million fewer child laborers today than there were 16 years ago. I believe one of the reasons for this progress is the coming together of governments, worker groups, and human rights and child rights groups every four years for an international conference for focused strategy sessions on reducing child labor. I realize that there might be some skepticism that a conference could make much difference, but hear me out.
This year’s conference, organized by the government of Argentina and the International Labour Organization, took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 14-16 and brought together over 150 countries and about 3,000 individuals who are in some way involved in the fight against child labor. I was there representing the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers, and has been fighting to reduce child labor for nearly three decades.
The conference featured many great panels. Several were about trying to confront work in agriculture—the most ubiquitous form of child labor (comprising 70 percent of the problem. Others confronted hazardous work, which involves 73 million children—almost half of the child labor population which is currently 152 million.
The CLC’s Norma Flores Lopez, the chair of our Domestic Issues Committee, spoke movingly about her own experiences working in US fields as a child farmworker. Norma noted her belief that racial discrimination plays a part in persistence of child labor. Most children impacted by child labor are children of color, she noted. Authorities, she suggested, feel less pressure to remedy the exploitation of racial and ethnic minorities. Conference participants seemed stunned to learn that the US has a child labor problem—our lax child labor laws allow children to work in agriculture beginning at age 12 and kids are allowed to work unlimited hours as long as they do not miss school. Some children work 80-90 hour weeks, performing back-breaking labor in stifling heat.
Jo Becker, a child rights specialist for Human Rights Watch and an active member of the CLC, spoke about hazardous work and the dangers children are routinely subjected to in the fields and other dangerous locations. Becker has been a leader in campaigns to remove children from combat, from mines, and from tobacco farms in recent years. She noted that Brazil lists child tobacco work as hazardous but the U.S. does not—something that the US government needs to fix. In 2014, Human Rights Watch published a ground-breaking report, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming,” based on interviews with children working on American tobacco farms found that more than half had suffered symptoms that correlated with nicotine poisoning.
Both Norma Flores Lopez and Sue Longley of the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association both spoke about sexual harassment that girls and young women experience in agriculture.
Two 13 year old boys digging for gold in a mine in Mbeya region, Tanzania.
The Child Labor Coalition applauds progress in child labor remediation indicated by new estimates released by the International Labour Organization, but expresses concern that progress in fighting child labor is slowing
September 22, 2017
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820, email@example.com
(Washington, DC) The Child Labor Coalition (CLC), whose 37 member organizations fight exploitative child labor and represent millions of Americans, welcomed new child labor estimates released Tuesday, September 19th by the International Labour Organization (ILO) which found that the number of children in child labor is 10 percent lower than 2012. The CLC, however, is concerned that the pace of ending child labor has slowed decidedly.
During the period of 2000 to 2012, the ILO found “significant progress” in the reduction of child labor as the estimate of children in child labor fell from 246 million to 168 million—a reduction of 78 million. Progress was pronounced among younger children and girls, who experienced a 40 percent decline in child labor. The greatest portion of that decline occurred in the period 2008-2012, despite a global economic recession.
The new data from the ILO estimates child labor trends from 2012 to 2016 and found that child labor dropped from 168 million to 152 million—16 million fewer children representing a 10 percent drop. Between 2008 and 2012, the level dropped from 215 million to 168 million—47 million children or 22 percent. The most recent data represents a one-third reduction of the prior four years.… Read the rest
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