“Child labor and poverty are inevitably bound together and if you continue to use the labor of children as the treatment for the social disease of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labor to the end of time.” - Grace Abbott
In the late 19th century and early 20th, child labour was not only common but an accepted part of life in even industrialised, Western nations such as Britain, USA, Australia and many more. The world painted by Charles Dickens in his novels, where small children were exploited by a cruel society brought home chillingly the everyday reality for many of his readers who were amongst the privileged and well-to-do. The upper crust of New York and Chicago in the early 20th century lived their elegant lives and were oblivious to the plight of the children in the factories, mines and sweat shops that provided them with their wealth. The struggling farmers, drovers and other itinerants and their families in the Outback in Australia, were far from the mind of the comfortably well-off city dwellers in Sydney and Melbourne in earlier days.
We may think that child labour is part of history and that we do not have to contend with such a problem this day and age. However, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries—at least 120 million on a full time basis. Sixty-one percent of these are in Asia, 32 percent in Africa, and 7 percent in Latin America. Most working children in rural areas are found in agriculture; many children work as domestics; urban children work in trade and services, with fewer in manufacturing and construction.
The problem is most acute in the countries where the economy, social services and political systems are such that force many people to live below the poverty line. Poor families will rely on the work of their children for survival. In such situations, it is often that the children who work provide the only source of income… Child labour is often hidden away because it is not in the industrial sector, but rather in agriculture, in the household, in cottage industries or within the urban informal circle. Long-term survival and well-being of a family will often dictate the course of action to take and this, in the short term means forcing the children to work, sometimes at an age as young as 5 or 6 years.
Childhood is a magical time that should be full of love, innocence, happy memories and a family that nurtures, educates and supports. How many millions of children in the world are denied this right? Think of how our lifestyle in the West is encouraging child labour. The cheap imported products on our shelves are often produced in the sweatshops of developing countries where children may have been forced to work in order to survive. We can help and support these children in a different way, rather than by buying these products that perpetuate the problem.
Some historical information may be found here, where the British experience between 1750 and 1850 is outlined. Child labour in the USA between 1908 and 1912 is documented here. The UNICEF page is informative but also extremely distressing. The International Labour organisation has an excellent subsite devoted to child labour with strategies for the eradication of child labour. And as far as helping individually to stamp this out, World Vision has a rescue plan that may be sponsored.
Be aware, care and do your little bit to help!
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