State of the World's Children State of the World's Children

The many manifestations of child labour can, according to the report, be broken down into seven main types, none of which is unique to any one region of the world. These are domestic service; forced and bonded labour; commercial sexual exploitation; industrial and plantation work; street work; work for the family; and girls’ work.

The most vulnerable and exploited children of all - as well as the most difficult to protect - may well be those in domestic service. They are often poorly paid or not paid at all; their terms and conditions are entirely at the whim of their employers and take no account of their legal rights; and they are deprived of schooling, play and social activity, not to mention emotional support from friends and family. What is more, they are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse.

The isolation of children in domestic service also makes it difficult to establish reliable estimates of their numbers around the world. But some idea of the scale of the problem can be gleaned from local surveys in three continents. A survey of middle-income households in Colombo (Sri Lanka) showed that one in three had a child under 14 years of age as a domestic servant. A survey of domestic servants in Uruguay, meanwhile, found that 34 per cent had begun working before they were 14.

Bonded child labour occurs mainly, though not exclusively, in South Asia, where children, often only eight or nine years old, are pledged by their parents to factory owners or their agents in exchange for very small loans. Their lifelong servitude never succeeds in even reducing the debt.

In India, this type of transaction is widespread in industries such as beedi (cigarette) rolling, carpet-making, match-making, slate and silk. The most notorious of these is the carpet industry of Mirzapur-Bhadohi-Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh state. The report quotes a recent study of these children who are often "kept in captivity, tortured and made to work for 20 hours a day without a break. Little children are made to crouch on their toes, from dawn to dusk every day, severely stunting their growth during formative years."

The underground nature of the multibillion-dollar illegal industry in the commercial sexual exploitation of children makes it difficult to gather reliable data. But NGOs in the field estimate that each year at least 1 million girls worldwide are lured or forced into this form of hazardous work, which can often verge on slavery. Boys are also often exploited.

The physical and psychosocial damage inflicted by commercial sexual exploitation makes it one of the most hazardous forms of child labour. Children involved have to confront serious health risks every day, including respiratory diseases, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and drug addiction.

No social sector can escape responsibility. Families - entrusted with the care, nurture and development of children - may be complicit in allowing their sexual exploitation, and research has consistently indicated that child abuse and incest are common precursors of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Then, in addition to the people who actually buy sex, there are the traffickers, agents and intermediaries who profit from the sale of children. There are the professional criminals and syndicates that run brothels. There are the entrepreneurs who organize sex tours.

And there are all the people, including corrupt or apathetic officials, who look the other way.

After decades of what has amounted to a cross-cultural conspiracy of silence, the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children put the issue on the world’s agenda for the first time. The Agenda for Action agreed upon by participants will guide governments in developing programmes to address the problem.

All over the world, children are to be found doing industrial or plantation labour in hazardous conditions. The physical risks to these children - from dangerous chemicals or from faulty machinery, for example - are often more evident than the hazards to their emotional and social development, which are nonetheless profound.

The industries involving children come in all shapes and sizes, from the leather industry in the Naples region of Italy to the brick-making industries of Colombia and Peru, which can involve children as young as eight.

The numbers of children exploited by plantation agriculture across the world may be as great as those involved in industry — and the dangers associated with their work no less appalling. In Brazil’s sugar plantations, for example, children cut cane with machetes, at constant risk of mutilation. In some areas, children make up a third of the workforce and are involved in over 40 per cent of work-related accidents. In Nepal, children work on tea estates for wages so low that they often need to work 14 hours a day.

Street work can be cruel and hazardous for children, endangering their physical and psychosocial development and often their lives. Most of these children struggle at legitimate work on the street for their own or their families’ survival. They shine shoes, wash and guard cars, carry luggage, hawk flowers and trinkets of every imaginable kind, collect recyclable junk and find a thousand other ingenious ways to make a little money. The vast majority of them return to their homes in shanty towns and squatter settlements each night: these are children on the streets, but not of them.

The most common kind of child labour is agricultural or domestic work for the family. While children can benefit from a reasonable level of participation in household chores and activities and derive a sense of self-worth from their work on behalf of their families, all too often work for the family demands far too much of them. It may require them to work excessively long hours that keep them from school and can take too great a toll on their developing bodies.

Much of the work for the family within the home is done by girls, and the report focuses on the special situation of girls’ work worldwide. Most of the hazards faced by working boys are faced by girls too. Yet girls have extra problems of their own to face: from the sexual pressures of employers to exclusion from education. According to ILO, 56 per cent of the 10- to 14-year-olds currently estimated to be working in the developing world are boys. Yet if we were able to measure the numbers of girls doing unregistered work as domestic servants, or work at home that liberates other family members to take up paid employment, the figures would show more female child labourers than male. Girls also work longer hours on average than boys. This is especially true of girls who carry a double workload - who hold down a job outside the home but must still fulfil their domestic duties on their return.

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