More than 215 million children are still forced into labour throughout the world

by Jérémie Henriod | Terre des hommes (Tdh) - Switzerland
Tuesday, 11 June 2013 10:00 GMT

Afghan children walk out of a field as they carry cotton clumps in containers balanced on their heads on the outskirts of Jalalabad province, Afghanistan, November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Parwiz

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As on every June 12, the World Day Against Child Labour highlights the plight of the millions of children compelled to work, often in hazardous environments and endangering their physical and mental health. On this day Terre des hommes wants to emphasize the extent of a phenomenon it has been fighting for the past 50 years.

What is meant by ‘child labour’?

The 2012 figures of the International Labour Organisation speak for themselves: more than 215 million children labour in the world, 158 million of them between 5 and 14 years old, i.e. one child in six.

Child labour refers to all the children under 12 working in any branch of economic activity and to children between 12 and 14 engaging in activities prejudicial to their health. But the definition also includes the children forced to do the worst forms of work whatever their ages, like enslaved youngsters, compulsorily recruited, subjected to prostitution, victims of trafficking, or compelled to take part in illicit and dangerous activities.

Child labour has many faces

The work of children is generally a necessity for subsistence for numerous families. The loss of the parents’ jobs, the departure of the head of the family, a poor harvest, a natural disaster, the occurrence of illness or any other unexpected event can compel a child to go to work.

However, despite the vagaries of life that can hit a family, children usually become the victims of their own vulnerability. They represent an unskilled, flexible and low-cost work force for employers or unscrupulous relatives.

In Asia, little girls are sold to fill the prostitution rings, to work as domestics or in textile factories. In Africa, children are exploited in plantations and mines, or become domestic workers like the ‘little maids’ in Morocco.

In Eastern Europe, children serve as a cheap work force, or as new supplies for the networks of prostitution. And in Latin America, notably in Colombia, children are prostituted to meet the perverse appetites of sex tourists.

A serious hindrance to the physical and cognitive development of a child

Beyond the physical problems with devastating effects such as premature aging, malnutrition or depression, child labour runs counter to their education and intellectual development.

The best possible prevention of child labour consists of allowing every child to go to school. A child forced to labour is a child with a higher risk of illiteracy who will have far greater difficulty to develop himself professionally and socially.

Additional efforts must be made

In 2006, the ILO set 2016 as the deadline for the total elimination of the worst forms of child labour. However, although the number of labouring children in the world is reduced year by year, it is dropping far less strongly than in the past. If this trend is confirmed, the objective will not be reached.

For this reason, we may not leave the fight against child labour as a worry for just a single day, but a priority for every moment for all the actors closely or indirectly involved in this problem.

Bearing this in mind, Tdh continues its efforts. In 2012, no fewer than 175,000 people benefited from the projects fighting against trafficking and exploitation in 12 different countries.