The Crime of Child Labor

Chances are that you've never met me before. Maybe you've heard of who we are, but never who I am. You probably don't know what my name is or even what I look like. But you do know my work. In fact, you and I do have that one thing in common: I work, you buy. You'll sometimes hear about the hard work that I have to do, and the long hours that I have to endure, only to end up at the end of the year with less money than you make in a month, and you'll sit there reading your newspaper thinking, "Those poor children," but never do anything about it. Or if you feel bad enough, you'll send a few cents each month to those companies asking for money to help feed hungry children thinking that they're somehow connected to us, making you feel good all in the while. Then the next day, you'll decide to go shopping and buy something that perhaps I, my friend, or my family member has helped to make, forgetting about what you just read in the newspaper the day before. You won't realize that that exact shirt you're wearing, or that pair of name brand jeans that you've got on were made with the sweat and blood of my peers and me. But it’s not my place to blame you for my having to live and work this way. I'd rather earn money making those everyday things that you buy, than not be making any money at all. But I do need you to hear me out.  I do need you to realize that we’re not invisible, that we are the workers that make the goods that you love so much. We’re the children that are behind the scenes.  While you’re living in comfort, I never know when my last days will be, enduring the long hours and the constant battle against fatigue, while working in an environment that surrounds me with life threatening dangers.  This is how I have to live my life, the life of a child laborer.

Child labor seems like a topic that isn't part of our world just because it takes part in other countries such as China . It makes one feel as if it has no effect on our lives just because we don't see it happening. However, child labor is a worldwide problem that affects all people whether you're the child laborer, their employer, or the average every day American who buys the products that they produce. Child labor is part of the reason for China 's economic achievements, and laws prohibiting against it aren't being reinforced resulting in the continuation of such inhumane treatment. On the other hand, because these laws are there, they could possibly cost a child their life because their owners are scared to get caught employing children. These children are forced to work at very young ages due to circumstances such as poverty, sometimes at places where their lives are threatened each day. According to the Human Rights Watch, their work ranges from agriculture, domestics, trade and services, and a few in manufacturing and construction. Some of these children work long hours, and often in dangerous and unhealthy conditions. They would even be denied to go home to their families, while others are abducted and forced into labor. Some are even confined, beaten, and forced into slavery. In some cases like those of bonded child labor, they are forced to work towards a freedom they'll never receive. Children caught in the web of child labor are unable to get an education, and are made to work long hours, while getting little to no pay at all. They're often subject to abuse from their employer, as well as dangerous chemicals and work tools. Every day of their life as a child laborer could be their last, and they're forced to fight to stay alive.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that around the world, about 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work. Of these 250 million children, 120 million of them work full time, with 61% of them working in Asia, 32% in Africa, and 7% in Latin America . In Asia, with China being a leader in the manufacturing business, it's no surprise that they would house 61% of the 120 million full time child laborers. An article by Ching-Ching Ni of the Los Angeles Times describes how the Chinese government forbids child workers under the age of sixteen, but it is also states that this law isn't enforced very well. It's estimated that as many as 10 million children are working in China 's factories, contributing their part to keep China a low-cost manufacturing powerhouse. The employers of child laborers make as much as they can, for as little as they can, as if a life of a child is considered “little” at all.

Poverty and development have driven a number of rural children away from getting an education and have pushed them to get jobs as child laborers. Robin Munro, a research director at the China Labor Bulletin said, “The rural education system in many parts of the countryside is in a state of virtual collapse. There is a high dropout rate of children under 16. They are not just sitting around doing nothing. It is safe to assume that most are engaged in some kind of work illegally.” In some rural areas, like those from which Jia Wanyun, a young girl who died while working in a factory, were from, “every family has a child working in a factory. Some just 13.” Child labor has become something that seems unavoidable for the average rural family in China . For families with more than one child, it's a given that one of them, the girl, would be forced to work in the factories in order to help pay for their sibling's education. Most of the families are unable to pay for even one child's tuition, and, therefore, that child is forced to find an alternative to going to school. This situation almost always leads them into child labor.

It was stated in an article from the Human Rights Watch that, “Working at rug looms, for example, has left children disabled with eye damage, lung disease, stunted growth, and a susceptibility to arthritis as they grow older.  Children making silk thread dip their hands into boiling water that burns and blisters them, breathe smoke and fumes from machinery, handle dead worms that cause infections, and guide twisting threads that cut their fingers”. These harsh conditions that the children are forced to work in because of their poverty situation can cost them more than their hands or fingers, but sometimes their life as well. But that's the chance that their families are willing to take because they know no other way to get by. There aren't many choices to decide on: it's either you have no money and are forced to live homeless and possibly die because of it, you send your child away to work for a small price and have the extra money that they make, or you sell their child completely for a set price like that of bonded child labor. Either way, it's a fight for your life, and I'm guessing that most people would rather fight than just sit there and watch their lives dwindle away.

The choice of bonded child labor is when a family gets a payment in return for giving away their son or daughter to an employer. Sometimes these children's families are given as little as $15, American money, for the child. The young boy or girl will then try to work off the debt which is nearly impossible to be worked off at all, and the family usually cannot raise enough money to ever get their son or daughter back. And it keeps getting worse. At the workplace, whenever a mistake is made, the child will go into even more debt, while at the same time, their employer would charge the child interest and expenses which are deducted from his or her earnings, making it nearly impossible to become free. The cost of the child only increases through time because of these unavoidable debts, and they are never given back to their relatives. These children are working for a freedom that they will probably never see. In some cases, bonded child labor is even generational, where the family had promised the employer a son or daughter from each generation, making it an endless cycle. With generational bonded labor, there's no way to break free. Even if you had decided to not send your child into the child laboring business, you might not have a choice. Because a child from every generation was promised to the employer by your ancestor, you have no control over whether or not your child is chosen from his or her generation.

Although child labor laws have not been enforced in the past, recent findings have increased awareness and attention on the subject. Ching-Ching Ni described that in China , local authorities had just begun cracking down on the practice of using children as child laborers.  They started trying to enforce laws on child labor after many of the rural children (who also have the highest rates of being taken from school and put into workshops) began testing positive for lead poisoning and skin ailments. However, sometimes lead poisoning and skin ailments aren't the only effects of child labor, and in the worst cases, children can lose a limb or can even end up dead.

Printed in the Los Angeles Times was an article about the deaths of five girls who were child laborers in Beixin-Zhuang , China , and the cover-ups by their employers. A couple of days before Christmas, it was a little past one in the morning, and after a long, twelve hour shift, the five girls went back to their rooms. After burning some coal, they warmed up their room and fell asleep, but never woke up. It was said that the fumes had poisoned them, but there was more to it than that. The owner of the canvas-making factory was supposedly scared to find the girls unconscious, especially because three of them were underage workers. Because of this, he put them into their caskets while still alive. “'You see the damage on the corner of the box, the bruises on the side of her head, and the vomit in her hair?' said Jia Haimin, the mother of 14-year-old Wang Yajuan, pointing to pictures of her daughter lying in a cardboard casket stained with vomit and appearing to show evidence of a struggle. ‘Dead people can't bang their heads against the box. Dead people can't vomit. My child was still alive when they put her in there.'” Because school tuition in rural areas cost about $300 per person, many rural girls drop out of school because their parents need their help, and they can't afford tuition for more than one child. Jia Wanyun, 14, who was one of the five girls who died in the canvas-making factory, started working there only a month before her death. She was promised $100 a year, but hadn't been paid anything because she was still an apprentice. As an apprentice however, she still worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. At the end of the trial, the families accepted about $12,000 each and agreed to drop all charges.

The death of these five young girls isn't the only case in which children had died in the line of work. In the Los Angeles Times, there is a story about a mass death within yet another factory. In 2001, an explosion at a rural school killed 42 people, most of them being third and fourth graders. These children were believed to be making fireworks at the time of the blast, forcing you to assume that it was these exact fireworks that they were working on that had killed them. Whether it may have been an accident on their part, or something else, it doesn't erase the fact that a number of third and fourth graders had died on the job.

There are a number of ways that people could help. If you're inclined to do so, and would like to dedicate your profession into helping to stop child labor from happening, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are non-profit organizations which are run by professionals who are socially concerned and who may work full-time in this business. The areas of work that are available are in welfare, human rights promotion, and development of marginalized sectors and communities. Their services include providing resources, capacity building, issue advocacy, information, legal and moral support, and other support services.

A less committing way to help that doesn't usually require full-time work, but provides help none the less, are community-based organizations (CBOs). These groups are associations of communities that protect and promote the welfare and interests of their members where members are people of the particular community. It is an organization where people can become involved in or help create in a particular community. It is also an organization that consists of people in a community helping to solve problems other than those between themselves like that of child labor in China .

Child labor is something that affects everyone around the world. Because of its tremendous effect, it's not something that can be eliminated in one day, or possibly even a decade. However, the first step in helping a problem is to learn about it. There's nothing worse than having this crime go on right beneath your nose and not knowing that it's there. It's there, and it's the cause of destruction for many children's lives; whether it's the uncertainty of knowing which day will be your last, or the lack of a normal childhood, child labor does not give children a chance to live a normal life. Knowledge is one of the most powerful tools that people have, and it is the key to everything. Money may be able to buy a couple of children out of their child labor intensive jobs, but that's not what is needed to stop the problem at its heart. In fact, what is actually needed is a heart.

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