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Children labour

Child Woker - Madagascar. Photo by Rod Waddington

Another slap in the promises to eliminate one of the greatest plagues of our times: child labour.

The latest report published by UNICEF leaves no doubt: “Children around the world are regularly engaged in forms of work, sometimes paid other times unpaid”. According to UNICEF today, all over the world, there are over 150milioni children forced to work. A huge number but that could be underestimated.

Many times they are involved in dangerous activities that can compromise their physical, mental, social or educational development with devastating consequences for the future of the whole planet. “The prevalence of child labour is higher in sub-Saharan Africa. In the least developed countries, about one in four children (from 5 to 17 years old) are engaged in labour which is considered detrimental to their health and development “.

For decades, have been issuing international regulations, rules and agreements. Such as the Convention on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) no 138 concerning the minimum age for admission to employment; or ILO Convention No 182 (concerning the prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child labour); and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Agreements signed and several times ratified, are forgotten in a drawer in many countries. Rules that serve nothing in the face of the greed of multinationals to have raw materials and workforce at ever lower prices. It is these subjects with impressive economic and geopolitical dimensions that do not limit themselves. Only the costs are important for them: the lower is the better, even if the price to reduce and be “competitive” (but the reality are already) or to earn more, includes the life of millions of children.

Many of them pretend not to know. Many times even customers pretend not to see and not know who and how he produced the goods they buy in stores at the opposite end of the world. Products that, thanks to condescending laws – such as the international trade agreements that are mentioned so much as the TTIP or the rules on the traceability of foodstuffs (introduced in the EU and then modified ad hoc) – allow billions of objects made around the world almost without controls.

To be aware of the problem, however, is only the first step. In the absence of respected international standards, tools are needed to impose them or at least to discourage the exploitation of child labour: controls and heavy penalties not only for entrepreneurs who enslave thousands of children, but also for governments who pretend not to see what is happening within their national borders.

As in India, a country that is often praising for economic growth, but nobody says that, according to UNICEF data, 12% of children of this country are exploited for jobs (often very damaging to growth and health). Similar situation concerns Latin America. Even worse what happens in many countries of Africa where these percentages reach and exceed 30%. Here the hunger of raw materials and agricultural products makes more developed countries blind.

In many countries of the world, children-workers have to toil long hours to earn enough to survive, and to make their families doing the same. The causes of child exploitation are the same everywhere: poverty, social inequality and lack of education. According to the UNICEF report, in many rural and impoverished areas of the world, many children have no real alternative: schools and teachers are lacking and, when there are, quite often they cannot attend more than one child for family. The others must “work”. In the countryside as in the cities where the children become rings of the production chain of low cost stuff, easy to hire and easy to dismiss. Foodstuffs (the unorganised agricultural sector employs about 60 per cent of child labour), but also mining and unorganized assembly.

All of these minors are forced to lead a life of poverty, illiteracy and deprivation: poor working conditions and an early age often cause health problems.

To try and inform as many persons as possible about this subject, Justin Dillon, a former photographer who became an activist, created Slavery Footprint, an online “game” that, after receiving few informations, processes the number of people working as slave to make the objects that we possess. It only takes few steps about the data of the person who participates (age, sex, residence, vehicles he owns, food consumed eats, foods he wears and little else) to make the software estimate of the number of slaves that “work for you”.

But really it is not necessary an app to know that, for example, the computer or cellular phone – like those used to read this article – has a battery that is made by taking lithium from the coltan, a mineral that comes from a few African countries where child exploitation in mines is a widespread practice. And everyone knows that many clothes are produced in China or Turkey, countries that have made child exploitation their wealth. Yet, these products continue to be sold all over the world, and the leaders of these countries are welcomed by the rulers of the “developed” nations, where no one would dare ever make a child do what in many factories Chinese or Turkish is the only way to survive.

At the same time none of the leaders of the developed countries ever dared and vetoing food and snacks made by the exploitation of millions of children who, in order not to starve, work in the cocoa plantations in America Latin America and Africa.

Until people will become aware of all this and governments and consumers will change, the ads of UNICEF will obtain nothing. Until there, will be no common rules for what today, willy-nilly, is a global economy, multinationals will always have the best on social rights.

And to pay the consequences, all over the world, will be children.



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