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

According to the report, the recent surge of interest in child labour has too often been based upon four key myths that it is vital to confront.

The first is that child labour is uniquely a problem of the developing world. But in fact, children routinely work in all industrialized countries, and hazardous forms of child labour can be found in many countries. In the US, for example, children are employed in agriculture, a high proportion of them from immigrant or ethnic-minority families. A 1990 survey of Mexican-American children working in the farms of New York state showed that almost half had worked in fields still wet with pesticides and over a third had themselves been sprayed.

The second myth is that child labour will never be eliminated until poverty disappears. But, says UNICEF, hazardous child labour can and must be eliminated independently of poverty reduction. The climate is already changing. At the highest level, governments have begun to move on the issue, realizing that they have to make good the commitments they assumed in ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child. At the local level, activists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are exploring creative ways to remove children from dangerous work situations and provide alternatives for them.

The third myth is that most child labourers are at work in the sweatshops of industries exporting cheap goods to the stores of the rich world. Soccer balls made by children in Pakistan for use by children in industrialized countries may provide a compelling symbol, but in fact, only a very small proportion of all child workers are employed in export industries - probably less than 5 per cent. Most of the world’s child labourers actually are to be found in the informal sector - selling on the street, at work in agriculture or hidden away in houses — far from the reach of official labour inspectors and from media scrutiny.

Myth four is that the only way to make headway against child labour is for consumers and governments to apply pressure through sanctions and boycotts. While international commitment and pressure are important, boycotts and other sweeping measures can only affect export sectors, which are relatively small exploiters of child labour. Such measures are also blunt instruments with long-term consequences that can actually harm rather than help the children involved. UNICEF advocates a comprehensive strategy against hazardous child labour that supports and develops local initiatives and provides alternatives - notably compulsory primary education of high quality - for liberated children.

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