It is estimated that 152 million children worldwide are in illegal work. The work of children under the age of 14 is prohibited almost everywhere in the world.
Causes of Child Labor
73 million of the illegally working children work under dangerous, unreasonable conditions, for example in quarries or mines. The often far too heavy work and abuse cause permanent damage to the body and soul of many children.
For example, thousands of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo toil in narrow stone mines at risk of death. There they mine rare earths such as cobalt or copper, which are needed to manufacture smartphones .
Some of the children have a fatal accident or ruin their health. And ultimately because the demand for these raw materials is still increasing – because many people, including in Germany, regularly want to buy a new smartphone.
For child traffickers, factory owners and entire industries, the child labor business is very lucrative. Children are easily exploited, cannot defend themselves and are almost never unionized. And they are much cheaper than adult workers.
Especially in South Asia there is what is known as debt bondage. Employers lend their employees money at exorbitant interest rates and stop letting them go until everything is paid back.
Because of starvation wages, hardly any worker has the chance to raise the money including the interest payments. The debts are passed on to the next generation and all family members, including children, become slaves to the entrepreneur.
Many of the child workers belong to minorities or other oppressed social groups. Girls, who are less valued than boys in many cultures, are particularly at risk. Instead of going to school, they have to work or even prostitute themselves .
In Africa in particular, civil wars and the spread of AIDS mean that many children are orphaned and then have to survive on their own.
Missing school education
A lack of education is a consequence, but also one of the causes of child labor. Child workers usually do not go to school at all or sometimes only for a few hours.
But then they are often too tired to follow the lesson anyway. They suffer from illnesses, miss the boat due to their working hours and are not motivated by anyone to learn. Employers often forbid children from going to school.
Children without school education have little chance of building a good independent life later on. Employers mostly use children for hard but unskilled work.
This means that they can never get a proper education or learn a trade. It has been proven that former child laborers often send their own children back to work, meaning that entire generations are caught in this cycle of poverty.
Help for child workers
Child labor is a global problem and the rich industrialized countries are part of the system, as are the producing countries, because they buy child labor products.
But it is not a solution to stop importing or buying such goods. If boycotts and punishments are not accompanied by further positive measures, they often hit the wrong people: the children and their families depend on the income.
Child laborers who are simply laid off do not receive any help and end up on the streets or in even worse conditions of exploitation. Children from the textile industry in Bangladesh who were fired because of a boycott then had to work in stone quarries, for example, or became prostitutes.
Aid organizations such as UNICEF or terre des hommes therefore reject undifferentiated boycotts. On the other hand, it makes a lot of sense to support restructuring measures.
Every aid project for child workers must be accompanied by extensive social and educational measures. Successful projects against child labor offer compromise solutions with flexible schools so that the children do not have to give up their work completely and can still go to class.
In such projects, employers undertake to improve working and health conditions in their companies. It is also important to provide loans and improve wages for parents so that they can afford not to send their children to work.
UNICEF has set criteria that show when child labor should be classified as harmful exploitation. This is the case, though
- the children are fully employed,
- they have too much responsibility, long working hours and poor pay,
- the work is boring and monotonous,
- the working environment is dangerous, for example underground or on the road,
- the work puts too much physical or mental stress on them,
- there is no more time and energy left for school and learning.
European support for the children
Many companies undertake, under increasing public pressure, to no longer allow illegal exploitative child labor in their production.
International initiatives support companies in manufacturing goods without child labor. Aid initiatives mark goods that have been manufactured without illegal child labor – by companies that are ready to support social projects for children and their families.
German consumers can support these initiatives by making conscious purchasing decisions. Anyone who finds out about the origin of the goods on the shopping shelf and decides on products that are marked by aid initiatives supports the fight against child labor.