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Children working in a field

   ILO/IPEC

CAUSES OF CHILD LABOUR
Poverty is undoubtedly a dominant factor in the use of child labour; families on or below the poverty line force their children into work to supplement their household's meager income. Eradicating poverty, however, is only the first step on the road to eliminating child labour.

There are many other factors that conspire to drive children into employment, none of which is unique to any one country or any one family's circumstances. Only when we fully understand these reasons can we begin to address the problems associated with child labour:

  • Cuts in social spending - particularly education and the health services - have a direct impact on poverty. With little or no access to schooling, children are forced into employment at an early age in order to survive
  • Child labour may not even be recognised when children work as part of the family unit. This is particularly common in agriculture, where an entire family may have to work to meet a particular quota or target and cannot afford to employ outside help
  • Children may also be expected to act as unpaid domestic servants in their own home, taking care of the family's needs while both parents work
  • Parents may effectively "sell" their children in order to repay debts or secure a loan
  • The prevalence of AIDS throughout many developing countries has resulted in an enormous number of orphans who are forced to become their own breadwinners
  • The demand for cheap labour by contractors means that children are often offered work in place of their parents. With such narrow margins, contractors such as produce-growers and loom-owners know that children can be exploited and forced to work for much less than the minimum wage
  • Children may also be sent into hazardous jobs in favour of parents, who can less afford the time or money to become ill or injured
  • Child soldiers are forcibly enlisted into military service and operations
  • Employers often justify the use of children by claiming that a child's small, nimble hands are vital to the production of certain products such as hand-knotted carpets and delicate glassware -although evidence for this is limited
  • The international sex trade places great value on child prostitutes. Girls -and to a lesser extent boys- are kidnapped from their homes (or sold) to networks of child traffickers supplying overseas markets; poverty and sexual and racial discrimination also drive children into the tourist sex trade
  • Young workers are unaware of their rights and less likely to complain or revolt. In many countries, the legislation is simply not effective enough to support these workers

CONSEQUENCES FOR CHILDREN
Child labour does more than deprive children of their education and mental and physical development - their childhood is stolen.

Immature and inexperienced child labourers may be completely unaware of the short and long term risks involved in their work.

Working long hours, child labourers are often denied a basic school education, normal social interaction, personal development and emotional support from their family. Beside these problems, children face many physical dangers - and death - from forced labour:

  • Physical injuries and mutilations are caused by badly maintained machinery on farms and in factories, machete accidents in plantations, and any number of hazards encountered in industries such as mining, ceramics and fireworks manufacture
  • Pesticide poisoning is one of the biggest killers of child labourers. In Sri Lanka, pesticides kill more children than diphtheria, malaria, polio and tetanus combined. The global death toll each year from pesticides is supposed to be approximately 40'000
  • Growth deficiency is prevalent among working children, who tend to be shorter and lighter than other children; these deficiencies also impact on their adult life
  • Long-term health problems, such as respiratory disease, asbestosis and a variety of cancers, are common in countries where children are forced to work with dangerous chemicals
  • HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are rife among the one million children forced into prostitution every year; pregnancy, drug addiction and mental illness are also common among child prostitutes
  • Exhaustion and malnutrition are a result of underdeveloped children performing heavy manual labour, working long hours in unbearable conditions and not earning enough to feed themselves adequately
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