Child labour

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This map shows how common child labour was in the world, in 2003. The report of the World Bank concerns children aged 10-14 years old.[1] The data is incomplete, as many countries do not collect or report child labour data (colored gray). The color code is as follows: yellow (<10% of children working), green (10–20%), orange (20–30%), red (30–40%) and black (>40%). Some nations such as Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Ethiopia have more than half of all children aged 5–14 at work, because the family does not earn enough money.[2]
Young girls working in a brick factory
Child working in a mine, early 19th century England.
Laws on child labour, the Factory Acts, were passed in Britain in the 19th century. Children younger than nine were not allowed to work, those aged 9–16 could work 16 hours per day: Cotton Mills Act. In 1856, the law permitted child labour past age 9, for 60 hours per week, night or day. In 1901, the child labour age was raised to 12.[3][4]

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.[5]

Child labour refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives children of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.

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.[6]

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