By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
The number of children and youths who work — whether they’re paid or unpaid — is notoriously hard to pin down. Many countries have laws against employing children, but industries still continue to use child laborers despite legal and social consequences.
What number would you guess is accurate? A million? Six million? Ten?
Not even close.
The estimated number of child laborers ages 5 to 14 is 150 million, according to UNICEF. But only 1 percent of 1,022 Americans in a recent survey conducted for ChildFund answered correctly; 73 percent said less than 1 million children are engaged in labor in developing countries.
Other statistics reported in the survey, which was conducted in late June by Ipsos Public Affairs, are more encouraging; a majority of respondents say they’re willing to pay more for clothing produced without the use of child laborers, and 77 percent say they would stop purchasing clothing from labels that are found to use child labor. That’s good.
But it’s important for children all over the world — including those risking their lives in African gold mines, spending hours in the sun harvesting sugarcane in the Philippines, burning their fingers while making glass bangles at home in India or working for no money at all, as hundreds of thousands of Brazilian children do — for Americans to be more aware of the scope of the problem.
Almost one in six children ages 5 to 14 in developing countries are engaged in labor; aside from the potential physical hazards, these children are unlikely to complete their education. And thus the generational cycle of poverty continues. ChildFund supports many programs that assist families caught in this vicious circle by providing training for safer, more stable ways to earn income, giving assistance to children and youth to keep them in school longer and working with entire communities to discourage the employment of children.
The missing piece here is broader awareness in the United States and other prosperous countries. Child labor is a worldwide problem that touches everyone in some way, and we need to use this knowledge to engage and educate industries on how to change their practices and stop exploiting children.