No school days for working children

A boy carries a wooden timber destined for a mine tunnel in Pamintaran, a remote gold mining community near Maragusan on the Philippines' southern island of Mindanao, in a June 2013 file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

It's that time again when adults take off to celebrate Labor Day, and kids head back to the adventures of a new school year.

But for millions of children worldwide, the adventures of a new school year remain but a dream. Sadly, these children will never learn to read or write. They will not acquire computer skills. They will not experience singing in chorus, going on field trips or playing at recess. Their classrooms will be sweatshops, farm fields, and battlefields. Their days will be filled with long, dirty, dangerous work. And the lesson they will learn is that life is cruel and unfair.

According to International Labor Organization's (ILO) latest report titled "Global child labor trends 2008 to 2012," approximately 168 million children aged 5-17 were involved in child labor -- that is, labor not in legal accordance with ILO conventions -- in 2012.

And even worse, nearly half of all child laborers -- 85.3 million -- work in hazardous conditions, or what the ILO terms as the worst form of child labor.

ILO defines hazardous work by children as "any activity or occupation that, by its nature or type, has or leads to adverse effects on the child's safety, health and moral development."

According to the ILO, "hazardous work conditions include night work and long hours of work, exposure to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; and work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging their health."

Selling and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom, forced recruitment of children for armed conflict, child prostitution, pornography, and drug activities are among the worst forms of labor millions of children are trapped in.

And according to the ILO, about 22,000 children are killed every year while working.

Globalization is a key factor to child labor. Children are cheap to employ; they are docile and easily controlled, and they do not organize to defend their human rights. To unscrupulous corporate executives, child labor offers an attractive incentive to keep labor costs down in a highly competitive global market.

When money is the bottom line -- as is virtually always the case in the corporate world -- children are simply tools to be used and abused.

Let's work to change all of this injustice against millions of children.

We can vote for compassionate politicians, and urge sitting legislators to: greatly increase international poverty-focused assistance, establish fair trade policies with all poor nations, pass loophole-free legislation severely penalizing corporations that take advantage of sweatshop workers, give tax incentives to companies that financially help their suppliers provide a living wage and decent working conditions for their employees. And we can patronize Fair Trade certified companies.

Furthermore, we can visit www.freethechildren.com to learn about kids helping kids, and how we can help their efforts.

Let's tirelessly work for the day when cruel and dangerous children's work gives way to school work and homework!

[Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, "Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century," has been well received by diocesan gatherings from San Clemente, Calif., to Baltimore. His email address is tmag@zoominternet.net.]

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