Children's working conditions

Posted Wednesday, February 11, 2009 - 5:12pm

Our society is plagued with many epidemics, one of which I will touch on right now; child labor. Unfortunately, many people are shamefully unaware that child labor is rampant among us.

Children throughout the world are victims of this heinous crime, and we live peacefully while their education, health, growth and morals are violated. Who gives a second thought to the 8-year-old girl working 12 or more hours a day in a dingy, dark loom shed in India? Her fingers are wrapped not for medical purposes, but to keep blood from getting on the threads.

Some children slave away in their homes or in dirty little buildings stitching together soccer balls. Roughly 80 percent of the soccer balls sold in the United States are produced in a small region of Eastern Pakistan, where 20 percent of the work force is between 5 and 14 years old, according to the International Labor Rights Fund. This is a sad irony; that children must slave away making toys for other children.

An article written by Natasa Kovasevic of the Harvard International Review says that an estimated 217.7 million children between ages 5 and 17 are engaged in child labor. An estimated 122.3 million child laborers are between ages 5 and 14 in just the Asia and Pacific region.

Even though the U.S. is responsible for a minority of the world's child labor, it has decreased considerably over the past few hundred years since the country has become more developed. As written in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., "Child Labor was common in the U.S. from colonial times. The 1900 census showed that about two million children were employed. Many were engaged in mining and manufacturing. Roughly one in four workers in Southern cotton mills were below age 15 and many were below age 12."

As a way of standing up and saying, "NO MORE", some companies have refused to do business with other companies that don't uphold their labor-laws, including The Gap, Levi Strauss, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, J.C. Penny, Talbots and Sears. Elizabeth Razzi writes in an article, "[Talbots] Similarly cited by the Labor Department, the women's and children's clothing retailer now requires suppliers to sign and notarize a form stating they have a monitoring program for their own factories, as well as their subcontractors."

Razzi writes, "They work up to 20-hours per day, seven days a week and often sleep, eat and work in the sme small, damp room. They are often locked in at night ... those who try to escape or make mistakes are often beaten, deprived of food or tortured."

In Sandra Morgan's speech titled, "Canada's Help Needed to Stop Worldwide Child Labor Abuse," she says "According to the United Nations, nine million people are now slaves in the sex industry or being otherwise exploited by criminal syndicates trafficking in human beings ... Sexual slavery is one of the most brutal forms of violence against children. It's also very profitable. Children are forcibly recruited into the sex trade."

Despite these horrendous acts and problems that plague us, there are still things that can be done. As Morgan states, the International Labor Organization (ILO) "is the oldest U.N. organization and the only one where all participants – governments, employers and workers – have equal representation and voting rights." Every year the ILO delegates meet to create new treaties that protect working people and review how well existing agreements are doing.

While the ILO does a tremendous amount of work to eradicate child labor, many organizations and communities are trying to do their part as well. Razzi states that, "Consumers are quite justified in asking the retailer and domestic producer to supply them with more information about the type of conditions that exist with their suppliers." It may seem like a hassle or a waste of time, but consumers can make a difference by figuring out where and how the products they are purchasing were made. As a part of this society, all must play a part in the perfecting of it, and if that means taking just a couple of minutes to inquire about the rug that is being bought, then so be it.

Morgan says, "Students at universities and colleges in Canada and the U.S. are proving they can have a major influence on sweatshop practices in the garment industry. Students are demanding that their schools adopt codes of conduct requiring any company doing business with the school to abide by basic labor and human rights standards – standards that prohibit child labor, gender and racial discrimination, and so on ... One reason these campus campaigns have been so successful is that students are a major target for clothing companies ... a $2.5 billion college apparel market ... more evidence that consumer pressure does work."

The biggest and most important challenge child labor creates is that it does not allow the children of this world just be children. It is a short time in life and can either be bitter or sweet. We can create a world for them that is unlike any other. One where they are happy, cared and provided for, and loved. The alternative, sentencing 250 million children to short, miserable lives of economic bondage is simple unacceptable. It came from the wise mouth of Mother Teresa of Calcutta who said, "It is a very great poverty to decide that a child must die [so] that you might live as you wish."

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