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Child Labour


going to school

Education is useless?
For about 350 million children around the world, work is a fact of life. Many children work in order to support themselves or their families, and their income can make the difference between destitution and survival. Lack of affordable or relevant education can also be a reason for children working.

If the education is too expensive, or doesn’t teach anything considered to be useful, parents and children may feel that work offers them better opportunities. Hence schools have to be flexible and adapt to local children’s needs, such as adapting their timetable to the seasonable farming calendar.

Group of chiildren

North and South
Children work in a wide range of areas. Whilst some work in factories producing goods for export, the majority work as domestic helpers in homes, family farms, in small family businesses or selling goods.

This is as likely to happen in the North as the South, but whereas in the former it is encouraged as giving children experience of the world of work, in the South it’s often seen as exploitative. Yet work in the North is just as likely to be hazardous as in the South – and children can face the same exploitation.

Boy pushing cart

Hazardous work
According to the International Labour Office (ILO), hazardous work is classed as work which jeopardises the physical, mental or moral well-being of a child, either as a result of the nature of the work itself, or because of the conditions the child works in.

In its report ‘A Future Without Child Labour’ (2002) ILO found that around 179 million aged 5 - 17 – or one in every eight children in the world – are involved in hazardous forms of child labour. Of these, some 8.4 million are caught in the worst forms which include slavery, prostitution, and forced recruitment to armies.

Unhelpful reactions
A common reaction in the North to hearing accounts of child labour is to immediately boycott those goods. Yet this can actually be harmful, as the Harkin Bill in the USA showed.

This restricted the import of all goods made with child labour. In response, the garments industry in Bangladesh removed the estimated 60,000 to 70,000 children from their factories.

But as only 8,500 school places were created the majority of the children ended up on the streets, or working in more hazardous conditions. Even greater hardship was caused to the very children the Bill was meant to help.

© photographs by Phil Maxwell