five million: That's how many children are involved the worst forms of child
labor, including prostitution, the handling of hazardous materials, and heavy
labor. According to figures compiled by UNICEF, these 85 million make up some
10.5 percent of the world's children.
marks the U.N.'s World
Day Against Child Labour, and despite this grim snapshot, child labor is
actually decreasing across the globe. The International Labour Organization
(ILO), a U.N. body, estimates that the numbers of children being sent out to
work in the harshest and most dangerous types of jobs have been cut in half
since 2000 and says that an increasing number of countries are adopting
legislation against child labor every year. But implementing those types of
laws is difficult in countries beset by poverty, war, and human trafficking.
many of the world's children, working for a living is an unfortunate reality.
Documenting child labor can be difficult to do, but below are six countries
where child labor is particularly prevalent. These examples come from the 2014 Child Labour Index published by
Maplecroft, a global risk consulting firm, and reflect two major trends responsible
for governments failing to tackle the worst forms of child labor: insecurity
created through poverty and war, and economies where child labor is a product of
is among the world's most closed countries, with a government known for its
abysmal human rights record and one-party rule. Under a program known as
Mahtot, children from grades nine through 11 are conscripted into the workforce
and forced to work two months every summer building roads and buildings on behalf
of the state.
the government recruits children under the age of 18 for mandatory military
service that doubles as a work program. According to reports from the U.S. Department of Labor and Human Rights Watch, military conscripts
are used as forced laborers at Bisha, the country's largest gold mine.
Eritrea's economy overwhelmingly depends on mining, and the government appears
to have no intention to reform its child labor practices.
only is Eritrea one of the world's few countries that still uses
state-sponsored child labor," says Marilu Gresens, a senior human rights
analyst for Maplecroft, "but there is very little indication that the
government is concerned about the gravity of the situation."
over two decades of civil war and endemic poverty, many Somali children are
part of the country's informal workforce. All too often, that work is
soldiering. According to Human Rights Watch, the use of child
soldiers hasn't been limited to one side of the conflict. Both al-Shabab, the
Islamist militant group, and the Transitional Federal Government, the
Western-backed government in Mogadishu, have continued to commit serious abuses
against children, including recruiting children into their forces, according
to testimony given at the U.N. To its credit, Somalia's TFG
signed a plan of action against child recruitment in July 2012, but little
progress has been made.
basically have a complete breakdown of governance and no rule of law in
Somalia," says Gresens. "Even with political will, the resources are not
present to stop the worst practices of child labor."
little data on child labor in North Korea is available to outsiders, defector
testimonies describe extensive use of the practice. Forced labor has
become a structural necessity for North Korea's closed economy, frequently
forcing children into the workforce. As one North Korean defector told Human
Rights Watch in 2012:
I was between 11 and 15 years old I had to work on the government farm almost
every day.... We finished class at 1 p.m. and had to rush back home to eat lunch
because the school didn't provide food for the students. The school would
announce that we'd have to meet back at the school field and bring our own farm
tools. They forced everyone, even the small children, to work."
Defectors have described horrible conditions, especially in
political prison camps, where offenders' entire families, including children,
are sent to work. During testimony at the U.N. in February, Ahn Myeong Chul, a
former prison guard, described torture as commonplace and said children were
sometimes mauled to death by guard dogs for refusing to work.
from the Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights tells of teachers and
administrators forcing children to work collecting food for resale and toiling
on collective farms. According to the report, children usually begin working at age 11, but
start as early as nine in rural areas.
winning independence from the United Kingdom nearly seven decades ago, Myanmar
has been wracked by a series of internal conflicts, which have in turn
contributed to the use of child labor. But with Myanmar gradually transitioning
toward democratic rule, the government has begun to make commitments toward
combating child labor. However, progress has been slow. "Due to a combination
of desperate poverty and a history of conflict, child labor is now a pillar of
Myanmar's economy," Gresens says.
some in the government are attempting to stop the worst forms of child labor,
enforcement remains limited. Military personnel and insurgent militias remain
the worst perpetrators of forced labor in Myanmar, with thousands of children
estimated of have been forced to take up arms, according to a 2013 State
Department report. Moreover, an increasing number of boys and
girls, especially those from rural areas, are victims of sex trafficking to
larger cities or sent to work as beggars in Thailand. It is estimated by the U.N. that over a third of children in
Myanmar are child laborers.
has become internationally infamous for state-sponsored forced labor in the
cotton industry. The annual cotton harvest is integral to the Central Asian
country's economy and is estimated to supply around 10 percent of the global supply of
the fiber. Human Rights Watch estimates that every year the government forces more than
a million of its 29 million citizens, both adults and children, to work in the
cotton fields. The government shuts down schools and workplaces in order for
its citizens to pick cotton.
the cotton harvest has relied heavily on children, but there have been some
signs that Tashkent is caving under international pressure, including a boycott
by top clothing brands, among them Swedish retailer H&M. In 2008,
Uzbekistan finally adopted the ILO's conventions on the minimum age of work and
barring children from dangerous work. However, the scope of the conventions'
enforcement remains up for debate. In 2013 the government finally allowed ILO
monitors into the country to observe the cotton harvest, where they documented
41 cases of minors working in the fields. The government now claims that no
children under the age of 15 are being used in the harvest.
this leaves students from ages 15 to 18 participating in the state-sponsored
cotton harvest, and human rights activists remain skeptical about the
government's pledges. Tashkent continues to persecute activists and journalists
who try to document the cotton harvest.
nearly 13 years of American military occupation and untold billions in
development assistance, child labor remains endemic in Afghanistan. According
to the U.S. Department of Labor, children as young as
six can be found working in brick-making, carpet-weaving, mining, and
construction. As in the factories of the Industrial Revolution, children are
often used for the most dangerous tasks and are at high risk of being killed or
maimed in mines or construction sites, according to the same report.
exact number of child laborers in Afghanistan is not known, but children often
find themselves working in Afghanistan's booming underground economy. Children
have been found working as drug mules, soldiers, and in commercial sexual
exploitation. Girls, often forced to marry young and denied access to
education, have been found in domestic servitude or forced into prostitution by
their husbands, according to Human Rights Watch.
does have laws that prohibit children 14 and younger from working full-time,
but they are vaguely written and sparsely enforced. Moreover, the combination
of insecurity, poverty, and the country's large informal workforce, such as
those paid under the table, mean that children in Afghanistan will take
whatever work they can -- no matter how dangerous.
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