Child Labor Stems from Lack of Good Jobs for Adults

Child Labor Stems from Lack of Good Jobs for Adults

Some 168 million children remain trapped in child labor—11 percent of the world’s child population—even as 200 million youth in 2012 were working but earning less than $2 per day, according to an International Labor Organization (ILO) report released this week.

“Both child labor and the youth decent work deficit are symptomatic of the general lack of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the global economy and in developing economies in particular,” according to the report.

Released in advance of World Day Against Child Labor June 12, the report focuses on the twin challenges of eliminating child labor and ensuring decent work for youth. “Achieving decent work for all will not be possible without eliminating child labor and erasing the decent work deficit youth face,” the report notes.

World Report on Child Labor 2015: Paving the Way to Decent Work for Young People,” finds that at its core, child labor is about a lack of good jobs for adults—decent work with good wages and social protections that enables parents to support their families.

The report describes a self-perpetuating cycle of low-wage, low-skilled work opportunities that in turn provides no incentive for parents to keep their children in school because they have fewer reasons to delay their children’s entry into work and to incur the costs associated with their children’s schooling. Conversely, increased demand for skill translates into increased investment in education, the report finds.

The report also examines the worst forms of child labor, in which 85 million children under age 18 toil in hazardous work that directly harms their health, safety or moral development. Girls are especially vulnerable to worst forms of child labor, such as commercial sexual exploitation, and to hidden forms of child labor, such as domestic work outside their own homes.

Some 46.5 million adolescents age 15–17 years labor in hazardous work—40 percent of all employed 15–17 year-olds, according to the report.

Among them are child laborers in Ghana’s gold mines who pull the gold ore out of shafts, carry and crush loads of ore and process it with toxic mercury, according to a Human Rights Watch report also released this week.

Precious Metal, Cheap Labor: Child Labor and Corporate Responsibility in Ghana’s Artisanal Gold Mines,” documents the use of child labor in Ghana’s unlicensed, mines, where most mining takes place. It is estimated that thousands of children work in hazardous conditions in violation of Ghanaian and international law.

Many local gold traders have done little to determine whether the gold they buy is produced with child labor, and regularly bought at unlicensed mining sites, where child labor often occurs, the report finds. The Ghanaian government-owned gold trading company, the Precious Metals Marketing Company, has no procedures to determine whether children have been involved in producing the gold it purchases. It provides trading licenses to about 700 buying agents and trading companies without obliging traders to use any human rights criteria, including regarding child labor, when purchasing gold.

Briefing: Decent Work for Adults Can Reduce Child Labor

James Kofi Annan describes child labor in Ghana. Credit: Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks

James Kofi Annan describes child labor in Ghana. Credit: Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks

Reducing and eliminating child labor requires a focus on decent work for adults, said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau, speaking yesterday on Capitol Hill. Such an approach, she said, must build the capacity of vulnerable workers to negotiate the terms of their employment and to advocate for local and national policies that address the economic welfare of entire communities.

Bader-Blau joined a panel of experts in a congressional briefing, “Combating Exploitative Child Labor,” sponsored by the Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition spearheaded by the nonprofit Humanity United, and the Child Labor Coalition—both of which include the Solidarity Center. (Watch a video of the full event.)

More than 168 million children around the world are engaged in child labor. David Abramowitz, vice president for Policy and Government Relations at Humanity United and a participant in the discussion, defined child labor as work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and which interferes with children’s education. In the most extreme forms, children are enslaved, separated from their families or exposed to serious hazards and illnesses.

Another participant in the event, James Kofi Annan, was enslaved as a child laborer in Ghana, where he was forced to work as a fisherman on Lake Volta in the coastal town of Winneba.

“I know what it means to go through torture,” said Annan, who went on to become an advocate to end child labor. Annan founded Challenging Heights, where 800 former child laborers now attend school in the Winneba community. He also operates a shelter for 50 children rescued from the worst forms of child labor.

Annan introduced Sen. Tom Harkin, a long-time champion of ending child labor, who pushed for the International Labor Organization (ILO) standard on eliminating the worst forms of child labor (Convention 182) and sponsored the Harkin-Engel Protocol, which addresses child labor in the cocoa industry. Harkin also spearheaded the creation of the Labor Department’s annual report on the List of Goods Made with Forced Labor or Child Labor.

“It’s not just enough to get these kids out of the worst forms of child labor. We have to build schools, we have to hire teachers,” Harkin said. Although he is retiring from the Senate this year, Harkin, who has traveled to Ghana several times to investigate child labor, said he would continue to be involved in the issue.

Getting children out of work and into school is the outcome of a path-breaking collective bargaining agreement workers reached at the Firestone plantation in Liberia, said Bader-Blau. After forming a union, the workers, with assistance from the Solidarity Center, negotiated a reduction in the high daily production quota of latex. Parents had been forced to bring their children to work to meet the high quotas. The new union, FAWUL, negotiated lower daily quotas so adult workers could meet them, and achieved free accessible education for the workers’ children.

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