Child labour

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Young girl weaving a carpet, in Morocco, 2008

Child labour means that children are forced to work like adults and take part in an economic activity. According to the ILO International Labour Organization this is applied to people up to age fifteen, or seventeen in case of dangerous work. Even though only about a fourth of the ILO members have ratified the respective convention, this age limit is generally accepted.[1]

Child labor is fundamentally different from casual work done by children, like guarding other children, or helping here and there. Child labour is forbidden in most countries.

There are two kinds of work that minors can do:

  1. Some work they do is acceptable, as it is only light, or easy to do. Children can also do it while they are well-integrated into the family. This kind of work can be done in addition to an education the children are getting.
  2. The other kind of work is difficult to do, or it is physically exhausting. It may be dangerous, the children may be required to work for long hours and in humiliating clothing.

In general the second kind of work is usually labelled child labour. Estimates are that up to 350 million children are affected by child labour, eight million of these are affected by one of the worst forms of child labour: they are child soldiers, they are forced into prostitution, they are used for child pornography, they are child slaves, or affected by human trafficking.

There are many prejudices against child labor in the Western world: Very often such cases are known through scandals made by the mass media: In that manner, a working child is often seen as a slave, working in a sweat shop in a third world country, producing textiles, or as one of the street children in South America. The reality is different though: Such shops exist all over the world, also in countries like the United States or Italy. The fact that child labour is involved is often hidden: More than three quarters of this work is done in the sector of agriculture, or it has to do with activities done at home, in the context of the family. If child-slaves exist, they are only a minority. This form of work done by children also existed before industrialisation and globalisation, the two phenomena have made it more visible, at best.[2]

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