Saturday, 13 March 2004

Vatican City (Fides Service) - They should be sitting at a school desk, playing with their friends, have the opportunity to live their childhood to the full. Instead they grow up too early, taking on the heavy burden of clandestine job, underpaid and often at the risk of their health.

There are 246 million child workers aged between 5 and 17, according to recent reports from the ILO (the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation with 176 member nations), 73 million are under 10 years of age. Estimates with regard this phenomenon are tragic: every year 22,000 children are killed in accidents at work and 8.5 million live in conditions of slavery, 1.2 are victims of illegal trafficking of the worst sort, from pornography to the sex trade.

Out of 211 million children aged 5 to 14 anni who work for a consistent number of hours, not occasionally, no less than 186 million, or 88%, work in mines, building sites, factories of explosive material which should be abolished because they are dangerous for the health and the physical integrity of minors.

Although child labour is more widespread in developing countries the deterioration of the international economic situation and increasing unemployment among adults, has caused an increase in the number of child workers because of family’s needs families also in developed countries (where there are 2.5 million child workers) and in eastern European countries (2.5 million) where ten years ago the phenomenon was almost non existent.

Nevertheless article 32 of the UN Convention of the Rights of Children clearly states: “Countries recognise the right of every child to be protected from economic exploitation and not to be forced to work which is dangerous or could affect his education, damage his health or his physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development”.

In 1973 ILO with Convention 138 del (ratified more than thirty years ago, so at least 2 generations of children have been exploited) gave precise indication with regard to the age of child workers: “the minimum age of admission for any kind of work which for its mature or circumstance is damaging to health, safety or moral of the young person must not be inferior to18 years”.
Although the Convention was ratified we still find ourselves in front of this disconcerting map of labour.

Country Child workers
India 50/60 million
China 80 million
Pakistan 10 million
Bangladesh 15 million
Thailand 7 million
Nigeria 10 million
Brazil 9 million
Egypt 2 million
Philippines 7 million(in industry alone)

In Asia
The continent where child labour is most frequent is Asia where about 127 million children are force to work without even beings considered illegal workers since the legal age for starting work is 12 years.
Besides working in family ventures children are used in farming (rice fields, plantations livestock) or in “ informal ” or contract work (leather factories, mining, textiles, refuse selection).
In the overall view India stands out. Besides the highest illiteracy rate in the world it also have the highest number of workers between 4 and 14 years. Since 1986 there has been a law which prohibits the use of minor in high risk work, but the scarcity of means of control hinder the application of the law.
The Asian Labour Monitor estimates that children produce about one fifth of the domestic product, and that the number of “slaves” (unable to leave the job and unpaid) is at least 5 million.
In Bangladesh and Nepal tea plantations absorb a good deal of child labour with long hours and low wages at the service of multi-national companies and local associated businesses. In Thailand and China a good part of child workers are exploited in factories. In Indonesia child labour, involving about 300.000 minors is allowed for four hours a day. Toy industries also use children - clandestinely - often for 12 consecutive hours. No less than one million children are involved in carpet making sitting behind looms all over Pakistan, India and Nepal. They are recruited in villages by local bosses with promise of future prospects and they are then closed in tiny dark rooms where they ruin their hands and eyesight for ever tying knots in the coloured threads.

In Africa
One child out of every three works or helps the family in the fields or small business. In Sub Saharan Africa there are about 67 million child workers, that is about 32% of all children.
In north African countries child labour involves 21 million, that is 19% of the minors in this part of the del continent.
In Egypt there are about 1.5 million child workers mostly in leather factories in contact with toxic material for many hours a day.

In Latin America
About 20% of the children under 15 have to work because they have no family or the family is too poor to keep them. Among those who work for a boss we recall child workers in clothes factories in Central America called, “maquilladoras”. There are also child workers in banana plantations and many of them are intoxicated by pesticides.
In Brazil the number of child workers meets that of street children in cities. It is estimated than more than half a million little boys and girls are involved in sex tourism and 7 million children work in the fields and sugar cane, plantations. In 1994 the Conferederation of Farm Workers denounced the existence of more than 40.000 child slaves for family debts many working in the coal factories in Carajas. In Colombia they make bricks or have their hands full of glass splinters in window factories.

Workers without rights
Most of their day is spent in heavy labour, often too much for their young age. And these little workers paid a meagre wage are ready to do anything wherever there is an owner ready to exploit their energy. From fields to factories, from craft workshops to restaurant kitchens wherever they can earn a bit of money for the family or themselves to survive the scourge of hunger and poverty.
Some distinctions must be made in the various types of work: work in the family is very widespread, domestic work, in family run businesses, restaurants, hotels, shops crafts etc.

Sectors in which child workers are used:
Agriculture, hunting, fishing 70%
Industries 8%
Trade, hotel work 8%
Domestic work 7%

Millions of children live off “street labour” in the great cities of developing countries. But most of these little slaves of the 21st century live behind the scenes in the world of industry often at high risk in contact with toxic materials, dangerous machinery, unhealthy working conditions, long hours.
On the last lap of this overall view we find tens of millions of children exposed to forms of slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, recruitment to fight in wars, abused in the market of prostitution and pornography, who according to the ILO are distributed as follows:

trafficking of minors 1.200.000 children
forced labour 5.700.000 children
child soldiers 300.000 children
Prostitution and pornography 1.800.000 children
Illegal activities 1.000.000 children

Will the future be any different ?
At the beginning of this year ILO launched a major campaign against Child Labour. By the year 2020 the scourge could be eliminated through the investment in the next 15 years of 760 million dollars to replace child labour with adult labour, creating economic benefits worth 5.1 billion dollars in countries with economies in transition and in developing countries.
The campaign shows in fact that the exploitation of child workers has serious long term consequences for society. Lack of education for children leads to serious gaps in the formation of new generations and therefore the future of a country. There is a need for concrete projects: Juan Sommavilla, ILO Director General launched this challenge for the 21st century and he said “good social policies are also good economic policies. The elimination of child labour will produce inestimable investments and benefits for the life of the children and their families. ”. (M.F.D’A.) (Agenzia Fides 13/3/2004 - Righe 138 - Parole 1463)