International reports indicate that more than 200 million children in the world are forced to work. Many of them are forced and exploited to produce low cost products, which reach astronomical prices in European and US markets.
In Mali, they hand harvest cotton, on the streets of Cairo they collect rubbish, and in India they make of colourful tapestries refined in an endless amount of colours. They don’t know what its like to play, to have fun, or to learn at school.
According to the latest report published by Unicef, there are 215 million children in the world who are forced to work. The International Institution reported that 60% of them work in the agricultural sector. Furthermore, they reported that those who work as cotton harvesters are living in conditions of slavery.
Child exploitation is considered a social evil; it is most common in developing countries. Forced labour prevents children from getting basic education and training that would allow them to develop themselves and improve their future.
The International Labour Office claimed that lots of children are exposed to hazardous materials, that they are dying at a young age, and that prostitution is the most baneful type of work.
It is estimated that two million children worldwide are forced to sell their bodies. A statistic that is lower than the consumption of narcotic substances and HIV infections, a deadly virus for infants.
The worldwide economic crisis and the decisions on austerity, adopted by many countries, have already affected the rates of child exploitation. The downward trend has stalled and since 2008, the number of working minors has grown.
One of the continents with the worst rate of child workers is Asia, where it is estimated that 60% of all the child workers in the world work. China, one of the largest manufactures in the world, keeps a large list of accusations related to cases of child exploitation.
So, whilst young people in the US and Europe spend large amounts of their savings buying fashionable or technological gadgets, China’s youngsters manufacture them in exchange for a few Renminbi a month.
Reality forces them to leave school and in some cases, their homes. The majority come from the most rural and poorest parts of the country. They want a salary that they can live off of and help out their relatives with. Their dream becomes a nightmare.
According to organisations like China Labour Watch (CLW), most of the products stocked in Western shops come from China. Mobile appliances or t-shirts, like those worn by sports stars, are made in workshops that look like prisons.
Inside the buildings, the windows are barred in order to prevent suicides; hundreds of workers work for up to 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. All this work for a salary, which often doesn’t exceed £100 a month, and for children its halved.
Amidst, the faces of adult workers in the factories, CLW has come across, on more than one occasion, ‘innocent’ minor workers. Recently, the foundation claimed that in one of the factories belonging to Samsung; a multinational company, which received a bonus of more than 16 thousand million euros last year, allegedly employ 14-year-old children.
Additionally, they claim that minors are forced to live in overpopulated rooms inside the main building when they are not working. They also claimed that they are subjected to tough labour regulations. Production pressures often cause the numerous cases of suicide amongst young people.
The large electronic company in their defence, argued that one of their priorities is ‘the security and health of each of their employees’, even those indirectly contracted; a point of view not shared by Greenpeace. The environmental organisation, in one of their yearly presentations, listed Samsung as the third worst company in the world.
A claim supported by the 50 fatalities and 140 cases of cancer amongst its employees, for whom they are responsible.
The state of children’s’ welfare in the Asian empire has always been questioned. Moreover, if you take into account that investment in the educational system only represents 3% of China’s GDP, although the United Nations recommends double this figure.
The insignificance of education in China is one of the reasons behind the China Labour Bulletin, an organisation that is trying to prevent child exploitation from getting worse in the country. The organisation claims poverty and legal loopholes facilitate the terrible situation.
In rural areas, the vast majority of people live in poverty, and roughly 40% are school dropouts. Many students are forced to leave school in order to work in factories, due to the economical situation of their families. There have even been cases of parents selling their children for a bit of money.
“They are scholarships, not exploitation”
Apple’s supplier company for technological devices in China, Foxconn, justified the presence of youth workers in their factories, by claiming that the work they do is ‘educational and instructive’.
However, although it may seem like a one off case, its not, it’s completely the opposite. China Labour Watch alleged that there has been dishonest practice between companies and faculties. As noted in the reports published by the organization, many tutors financially benefitted from sending their students to factories, under the pretext of being a method of “training and upkeep”.
Child labour is considered a problem of the 21st century, because of this Unicef has expressed concern and has stated that the child exploitation ‘undermines national economies and impedes on societal progress’.
Unemployed parents with scarce economical resources are often the background to the millions of stories of ‘child-workers’.
They grow up without having fun, isolated; they then become adults without an education that would force them to think, to be creative, to develop and to shape their future. All of this, without a doubt, will affect generations to come. What does today’s child exploitation hold in store for us in the future?
(Translated by Emma O’Toole)